Does ‘that time of the month’ really put a female athlete at risk for tearing her ACL?

Quite the title, huh?

If you have any involvement in the sports science world, you are well aware that females have a higher incidence of ACL tears than males. In fact, women are 3-6 times at a greater risk for tearing their ACL than men. For years, researchers, coaches, athletic trainers, doctors, and professionals alike have been trying to answer the question, “Why?” Perhaps it is the naturally wider hip angle of a female that creates the infamous ‘Q’ angle putting extra pressure on the knee joint. Or maybe it’s the hamstring to quad ratio, perhaps females present with more muscle imbalances and compensations than males. Still, it wouldn’t fully explain the borderline epidemic that has occurred in the world of ACL injuries. Additionally, if tearing the ACL was due to structural factors then theoretically, us as professionals should be able to predict the incidence of injury with fairly accurate results. Yet, we’re missing something. We still see phenomenal female athletes tear their ACL. Athletes that have done all the right things in training, presented with zero knee valgus, have high resistance to fatigue, work tirelessly on midline strength, landing mechanics, proprioceptors, etc. So, what is it then? I’m not sure we’ll ever truly be able to explain the answer to this in black and white, however, there is some very interesting research that has recently presented itself as promising leads on female ACL tears.

As a college athlete at the University of Alabama, I was surrounded by tremendous athletes on a daily basis. Looking back on my time there, the level of professionalism amongst everyone involved in the athletic department was truly remarkable. I remember one athletic trainer saying she was convinced a female on her period had everything to do with when they tore their ACL. So much so, that she had the wild thought of sitting athletes while they were on their period. “WHAT?!” I blurted out. If anyone told me that once a month (that’s 20-25% of my year) I would have to sit out from athletics on the off chance I’d tear my ACL I’d be picketed in the streets at the ridiculousness of the thought. However, with every crazy thought, there is some merit to it. If this athletic trainer who had been working at the university for over 25 years saw 90% of her athletes tear their ACL during that time of the month then maybe she was on to something. Before we ask the question of what we should do during that time of the month, let’s first explore the why behind how the menstrual cycle impacts a female’s chances of tearing her ACL.

The Impact of Hormones

When a female’s body goes through its menstrual phases, there are various hormones that get released at different times. These hormones are designed to prepare the body in case the female gets pregnant. Thanks to our extremely intelligent body, some of these hormones are designed to increase joint laxity so that the hip region can expand in order to carry a baby. These hormones don’t just increase joint laxity at the hips, they increase laxity throughout the entire body (including the knee). Researchers have found that ACL injury has been 2.7 times higher in women whose knee laxity values were more than one standard deviation from the mean. Thus, it would make sense that hormones that increase knee joint laxity would, therefore, put the female at a greater risk for knee injury. These hormones can not only increase joint laxity but also make an impact on muscle sequencing, muscle contraction, and muscle stiffness. Alterations to any of these will also increase the risk for an ACL injury. Some studies went even further into evaluating hormone concentration levels and found that females with 6.0 pg/mL of relaxin (a hormone that causes the cervix to dilate) were putting females four times more likely at risk for an ACL tear. Now, here is the interesting part; What about females taking oral contraceptives? As a refresher, oral contraceptives are used to ‘tame the cycle’ and their purpose is to suppress the release of certain hormones while you are on the pill so that you won’t get pregnant. Ready for the mind-blowing part? One study found that females taking oral contraceptives were 20% less likely to tear their ACL.  

Do we buy it?

After reading this information I was equal parts intrigued and equal parts questioning everything I was reading. The data and facts seemed to make so much sense! This is what the athletic trainer I had talked to in Alabama was talking about! However, there are still some major flaws in the research that need to get investigated. For starters, how was ‘joint laxity’ of the knee actually being tested for most of these studies? Researchers were using the Lachman’s test. The Lachman’s test involves a practitioner manually testing for laxity. Some issues that may arise with this test are 1. Laxity is subjectively measured by the practitioner, 2. The temperature of the individual or the environment could make an impact on the perceived laxity of the joint. When determining which part of the menstrual cycle an individual was at, some studies would simply base their conclusion off of a questionnaire as to, “When was the last time you had your period.” Although it is possible to accurately measure if someone is in the follicular, ovulatory, or luteal phase based on when they get their period, it is also possible that someone has inconsistencies in their cycle and will get their period at the ‘wrong time’ in terms of the appropriate time of the cycle. Based on these estimates is when researchers would determine what hormones were present the most during that time. However, some females don’t even ovulate causing the release of fewer hormones, others have inconsistencies that keep certain hormone levels extremely high. Regardless of these inconsistencies, future research should aim to test hormone levels based on urine, saliva, or blood work. Lastly, one of the biggest issues with the statement pertaining to oral contraceptives is that the types of oral contraceptives vary greatly. In fact, some oral contraceptives contain the hormone, estradiol which is said to be at its highest concentration when the incidence of ACL injuries are also highest. Other oral contraceptives instead only contain progesterone which some researchers claim to have the least impact on joint laxity. Future research should work on completing a study comparing the different types of oral contraceptives and their impact on ACL injuries.

Back to the first question, what do you do about playing time during that time of the month?

The answer here is simple. There is nothing we can do, yet. In the future, I see our collective understanding of this injury growing ten-fold. With it, the understanding of regulating hormones will be within our grasp and we will have a better idea of when an athlete is at greater risk of injury. That is what the professional in me says. The former athlete within me says that there is no way I will ever sit on the sidelines just because I have my period. Just like an athlete who has a knee deviation due to genetic structure, I will strengthen my imbalances tirelessly in order to mitigate my risk of injury. As a female, and as an athlete I understood every day I walked on the field that I was putting myself at risk for injury. I willingly accepted this risk and felt confident in my body because I prepared myself in the best way I could for battle. ACL risk will always be out there but with continued research, we can work to grasp a better comprehensive understanding of how to prevent this catastrophic injury from occurring.

12 Strength Exercises Your SPRINTER Should Be Doing

This article provides twelve exercises to improve sprinting speed in athletes, as well as other information regarding how to sprint faster.

by Matt June

Stiff Leg Deadlift

This exercise is very specific to sprinting as we are eccentrically loading the hamstrings/glutes and quickly driving up through hip extension.  Beginners to this exercise start lighter and progress this movement.  Use a tempo on the way down (3-4 seconds) and drive up fast by extending the hip to meet the bar at the top. 

Wide Stance Box Squat

Setting a box just below parallel (an inch or two), complete this exercise with a wider stance than you normally squat from.  Be sure to sit back to the box and have your knees slightly behind your toes.  By doing so we are now squatting properly and using our glutes and hamstrings to drive out of the bottom.  This exercise is tremendous for teaching how to squat properly but you are now working on two major muscle groups vital to sprint performance.  Use this exercise as a staple and keep your reps between 2-4, staying between 70-80% of your 1 RM.

90 degree Front Squat

We want to load this between 75-85% of 1 Rep Max and the focus is moving the weight fast out of the bottom position.  We’re calling this “90 degrees” only to imply that we are not getting to the very bottom of our squat.  Unlike the Wide Stance Box Squat, our focus here is the leg extensors (quadriceps) and the concentric action of the squat.  At the same time, we are using the stretch-shortening cycle to quickly reverse eccentric to concentric action (same as in a sprint).  Bar speed is more important than weight on the bar for this exercise.

Hip Thruster

We use this exercise specifically for hip extension and we can achieve both power and strength with this movement.  Specific to sprinting this is an exercise that will improve the acceleration phase of our sprint (where the majority of athletes will spend the most time in their sport)

DB Walking Lunge

Specific for sprinting, this exercise is great because of multiple things going on at once.  One we have a single leg exercise, we are moving in the horizontal direction, we have to decelerate on the way down, accelerate as we come up and drive forward to the next step.  By using dumbbells we now have a stability aspect, not allowing our torso to move side to side. 

Single Leg DB Calf Raise

One of the most forgot about exercises for sprinters / all athletes.  This industry dwells on the hamstring and quad for knee health yet we always forget whats underneath the knee…the calf.  This is just one example of a calf exercise you can easily do with little equipment.  Plain and simple you need to train the calf, every other day. 

Heavy KB Swings

Heavy, challenge yourself with weight for this exercise (when our form and technique is perfect and ready to use heavier loads).  Very similar to the Hip Thruster, except this exercise is now standing and we can work on horizontal power.  Again, we are working on decelerating load and accelerating load (Sprinting). 

Heavy 1 Arm KB Walks

A simple exercise that can easily be done incorrectly.  We are doing this for anti-rotation purposes.  In sprinting our torso must avoid rotation as we are trying to move in the horizontal direction.  With this exercise, we can work on just that and can be down as a superset with another big exercise from this list. 

Heavy Sled Towing

If you are going to take away any exercise from this list, take this exercise.  Start lighter and progress the weight, dragging for sets of about 50-80 yards.  When you are towing make sure you have a slight lean of the torso (acceleration/start phase) and you are making contact with the ground behind your hip.  This exercise is phenomenal for acceleration and really should be done with all athletes.

Weighted Sled Block Starts

This exercise is more specific to sprinters coming out of blocks but it can still be done with athletes struggling to stay horizontal in their first few steps of a sprint.  The load does not need to be too heavy, we need to be able to fire out of the blocks and drive the sled about 5-10 yards (no further).  This exercise is concerned with our initial first step and staying aggressive for our 2nd,3rd,4th,5th…etc.  Do this exercise as a warm-up or superset with a barbell exercise from the list. 

Plyoball Hamstring Curl

Plyoball or machine we need to be doing leg curls.  Focus on the eccentric portion (about 3-5 seconds to return to the starting position).  The reason we like the plyoball is because now you have a stability aspect and you have to control your whole body while completing the leg curl.  Superset this exercise with the squat or use right before the squat. 

Reverse Hyper

The all mighty exercise for everyone, not just athletes.  We get therapeutic and strength sides of the same exercise.  Therapeutic – we are getting spinal traction or decompression (relieving pressure of the spine), this is the eccentric component.  The Concentric component of this exercise works the entire posterior chain at the same time.  We have hamstring, glute and back extension all at once.  This is not only an exercise that can help you become faster, this exercise is just as important for injury prevention. 

I want to know how to sprint faster. You want to know how to sprint faster. We all want to know how to sprint faster. I was curious as to how to sprint faster, can you teach me how to sprint faster?

10 Exercises Your Softball Athlete Should Be Doing

This article outlines 10 exercises for softball athletes to increase performance.

Single Leg Landmine RDL

Balance is a form of strength. Being able to complete a unilateral hinge movement while maintaining proper scapula stability will strengthen components necessary for a softball athlete to minimize the risk of injury in their sport. These unilateral movements will also expose to the practitioner or coach just how one-side dominated the athlete is from continuously swingining and hitting from one side.

Landmine Lunge to Power Press

The athlete will begin by kneeling on the ground with both legs at 90/90. The knee in contact with the ground should be on the same side as the arm pressing the landmine. Begin lifting the back knee off of the ground approximately two inches and engaging the glute and midline so that there is a straight line of force from the knee to the shoulder. Then in one motion, simultaneously thrust the landmine forward into an overhead position while achieving a strong standing posture. The athlete should work to achieve knee extension and elbow extension at the same time.

MB Shuffle Throw

The athlete starts the exercise with a light medicine ball by their back hip. Next, while using the lateral momentum garnered from shuffling off of the back side, the athlete drives their back hip forward and throws the medicine ball into the wall. This drill should be used to reinforce backside hip drive opposed to a throwing action with the arms.

Goblet Lateral Lunge

Lateral power and force are a huge component to staying healthy and successful in the sport of softball. In order to maintain hip health with this exercise, complete the lateral lunge to an elevated box height position. The box should be at a height that the athlete can sink her hips below parallel while keeping their chest upright. The goblet weight helps with balancing and ensures the chest stays upright. The weight should not be so heavy that the upper back rounds forward.

Single Arm Renegade Row

The exercise starts with both feet wide in a push-up plank position. The dumbbell should be directly in line with the shoulder. While maintaining a flat back and engaged midline, the athlete should bring the DB up in a row position while keeping the scapula retracted. When rowing during this exercise, it is crucial that the athlete should be working to keep their midline engaged and avoiding hip rotation or shifting.

Split Squat Anti-Rotation Hold with Press

The purpose of this exercise is to resist torque in order to create torque throughout the midline. In a split squat stance with the right knee 2-3 inches above the ground, the athlete will bring the band out in front of their chest with both arms extended. Tension on the band should be enough so that the lateral midline musculature is activating in order to hold the torso and hips centered. Be sure that the tension is not too much so that the shoulders and arms are overactive during this exercise. Repeat this exercise on both sides.

Banded Deadbug

The purpose of this drill is to brace the pelvis and ribcage positioning in order to ensure a bullet-proof midline. This exercise will be instrumental in protecting the lower back from injury with the violent rotations that take place during softball. While trying to keep the base of the lower back in contact with the ground, straighten the legs while maintaining tension on the band with the arms. Once the athlete begins to arch their back, even just slightly, it is important to cue the athlete to return back to their original position. Progress in this exercise should be observed as the distance the athlete can extend their legs without eleviating tension in their mdiline.

High Hang Power Clean

The purpose of this exercise is to teach triple extension of the hip, knee, and ankle. It is critical in sport and athletics to demand eccentric strength capabilities when catching/absorbing weight in order to teach the athlete how to manipulate their lower body to generate power through their upper body. The athlete starts with a barbell in the power hang position. While simultaneously and rapidly extending their hip, knee, and ankles they will thrust their weight upward in a straight line. Once the weight has reached the pinnacle of its height the athlete will then drop underneath the load and catch the barbell in a front rack position in the same power position that they originally launched the weight from. It is important to pick an appropriate load that will tax the athlete enough needed to achieve triple extension. The athlete should avoid pulling the weight upward with their arms and instead launch the weight with their lower half. Additionally, the athlete should be catching the weight in a strong position and not being overmatched by the momentum of the load when landing. 

Banded Sumo KB Deadlift

The purpose of this exercise is to maintain hip health while developing hip extension power.  The athlete starts with a kettlebell on the ground between their legs with a band around their feet and through the handle of the kettlebell. While simultaneously and rapidly extending their hips and knees, they will thrust their hips forward while pulling the banded KB straight up in the air toward their hip. It is important to pick an appropriate load of both the kettlebell and band that will tax the athlete enough to need to achieve rapid hip extension without compromising movement velocity. 

OH Bulgarian Lunge with Pause

This is perhaps one of the most demanding yet most effective exercises an athlete can perform. Sport is predicated on achieving true separation from the front hip to the back shoulder. By requiring the athlete to stabilize overhead during a rear-foot elevated split squat stance, the athlete is stressing the system to stabilize and recruit musculature responsible for this stretch shortening mechanism. The kettlebell or dumbell should be directly in line with the shoulder in the overhead position with the shoulder externally rotated and stable. The athlete will then descend to the bottom position of the Bulgarian lunge while keeping their chest upright and hips engaged in order to ensure proper posture. After a slight pause, the athlete will then extending their hip and drive out of the bottom returning to their original start position.

Exercises for softball athletes are fun to perform. I like to learn how to do exercises for softball athletes. It is very important to perform exercises for softball athletes when you want to improve your athletic performance through doing exercises for softball athletes.

Being a Female at an Olympic Lifting Competition

by Cassie Reilly-Boccia

‘It almost feels like game-day.’ That was the first thought that crossed my mind when I woke up on the morning of the Toss Daddy Open – a USAW sanctioned Olympic Lifting Competition hosted at Athletes Warehouse on June 14, 2015.

I grew up playing softball my entire life and enjoyed the opportunity to continue my career at the University of Alabama. During my four year collegiate career, our team was able to make it to the Women’s College World Series three times and win it all in my final season. I have experienced big games on ESPN, big crowds of 10,000+ people, and big moments throughout my time there. Every morning that I got to play, I would wake up with a distinct feeling that would mean only one thing: It was gameday and that meant I was going to get an opportunity to compete.

Being removed from softball for three years now, I was slightly reminded of that feeling as I got out of bed at 6:30am. Weigh-ins would be at 9am and for me, the competition would start two hours after that.

As a female athlete, my weight has always been an interesting concept.

“Don’t worry about your weight, it doesn’t mean anything,”

“Muscle is more dense than fat, pounds don’t matter!”

That’s great, I think this is a really healthy way of perceiving ones self-image especially as a female and I’m thankful I was brought up in an environment that emphasized overall health and wellness opposed to number on a scale. However, in an olympic lifting competition, your body fat to muscle mass percentages don’t matter. Now, the only thing that matters is that number on the scale. That one number determines just how impressive your lifts are and what weight class category you fit into to compete in. The more I’ve learned about this sport, the more I’ve learned that understanding your body weight and at which weight you as a lifter operate best at is part of the sport! In fact, learning how to ‘cut weight’ right before a meet can be the difference in a first place finish in a lighter weight class vs. a last place finish in a heavier weight class. This was a new element to sport that I had previously never experienced in softball. On top of having to be personally concerned about what I’d weigh-in at, my actual weight would be announced right before my lift.

“Oh man, everyone is going to know what I weigh?” The thought definitely crossed my mind, but I quickly got over this and just accepted that this is a part of this sport.

Something that I have learned my entire life playing sports is that my identity is whatever I want it to be and my self-worth can never be determined by anything other than what I choose it to be. I chose to have a large portion of my identity cemented as a female athlete. 

Upon arrival and weigh ins, warm ups began to take place. Lifting as an extra, I would one of the first lifters to compete along with the other extras and the first males group. Thus, I’d be warming up with all other males. Believe it or not, this is something I have gotten used to and it usually does not phase me anymore. I’ll admit though, when I first started strength training in the weight room, there was an intimidation factor that came with lifting with other males and being the only female. I didn’t want to be viewed as the ‘girl that didn’t know what she was doing.’

I figured out quickly that there was only one way to get over this discomfort, keep doing it until it gets comfortable.

As a coach, I love introducing olympic lifting to both my male and female athletes for several reasons.

1. I think the body awareness, kinematic sequencing, power potential, and absorption of forces that can be gained from olympic lifting will improve almost any athlete in any sport.

2. Secondly, I feel there is a massive psychological aspect to this training modality. Olympic lifting requires the upmost focus – it demands respect and never allows an athlete to ‘take a rep off.’ Getting heavy weight from the floor above your head is also very empowering.

Male, female, young, old: Saying you can safely, effectively, and powerfully get something heavy over your head leaving you in a triumphant position can and will boost confidence and moral in just about any individual.

3. Lastly, I love teaching these lifts because there is a competitive platform if the athlete is ever interested in taking the sport further. Athletics comes to an end for everyone at some point – whether it happens at the end of a pro, collegiate, high school, or little league level, the opportunity to remain competitive comes to an end. However, for those interested, olympic lifting can be another option for sport.

Of all the great reasons that come with teaching and coaching these lifts to my athletes, my reasons for competing were different. I missed being an athlete, more specifically I miss being a female athlete. There is something so invigorating about doing something that you’re not supposed to do or expected to do. It is an amazing feeling to defy odds and be stronger, more athletic, or confident than others would initially assume. As a female athlete, I always felt like I had an alter ego on the softball field. It was my opportunity to give way to any primal desires I had. I was able to turn my back to any problems or stressors I had in my life and instead focus solely on playing and competing.

Secondly, I view the opportunity to be a role model to other female athletes an extreme privilege and massive responsibility. I relish in the opportunity to be in a position where someone is looking up to me, specifically younger females. If the one day I competed, one younger girl could see that it’s ok to lift heavy weights, its ok to be stronger than a guy, and its ok to play a sport and be an athlete then I’d consider that a great day. With this last thought on my mind, deciding to compete in the Toss Daddy Open became a no-brainer.

At the end of warm-ups, right before it was my turn to lift, I got to see two generations collide head first. Three younger girls ages 8, 10, and 11 came running over so excited to watch the rest of warm-ups and other females lift later in the day.

“You guys going to do this one day?” I asked them.

“I hope so!” One of them excitedly exclaimed.

As if scripted for a sitcom, my 80 year old grandfather walked over.

“I didn’t know girls could do this type of stuff, be careful you don’t hurt yourself!”

I couldn’t help but smile and feel like the olympic lifting community and the strength and conditioning industry was making huge strides to not only improve athletes but redefine the definition of a female athlete.

Are you sure you know what you’re paying for?

PURPOSE: To help you decipher between coaches who care about their athletes and coaches who care about a paycheck.

POINTS OF EMPHASIS:

Letters after a name mean very little so get to know your coach and observe their passions

The education of your coach can mean all the difference.  Does their degree coincide with training? Or is this just a side gig until something better comes along?

Do your research and find out what certifications pertain to what types of coaches.

by Nick Serio CSCS, USAW-LV2, CPT, PES, CES

Don’t be fooled by letters after a name!  My son is 5 months old and while he is strong he certainly is not qualified to be a personal trainer.

The strength and conditioning industry (well really the fitness industry as a whole) is going through an identity crisis. 

There are so many fabulously intelligent coaches out there trying to exponentially increase the respect, clout, and professionalism of this industry, but are continuously undermined by the apathetic restrictions afforded by not having a governing body to enforce any.

Unlike many other similar professions (i.e. physical therapy, massage therapy, athletic training, etc.) the health and fitness industry does not require an individual to possess a licensure or higher level education in order to be qualified to work in this field.  Instead, as an industry we are held accountable by organizations that certify our professionals and then require continuing educational practices in order to maintain these certifications.  In theory, this should be a stringent enough practice. Unfortunately, the accreditation process for many of these certifications has become incredibly weak. This has led to many under qualified individuals having the potential to become Certified Personal Trainers (CPT) without having any real pre-requisites, knowledge, or value in their profession.  

The lack of restrictions and education requirements has been readily abused by mainstream membership gyms for years, capitalizing on the simplicity of contracting under qualified coaches in order to handle high volumes of personal training clients. This tactic is driving the price of their training down so low that people feel they can not pass up the opportunity, only to find out the person they are working with has nothing more than a high school diploma and is in between career choices.  This model elicits terrible training for the client, (i.e. training with an under-qualified coach) horrendous pay for the coach (i.e. due to lack of qualifications, the coach is held to low pay), and most importantly lack of value in the product (neither the coach nor client values the product because the client is under paying and the coach is being under paid as well).  Since this model is highly effective for creating large volumes of people training, many of these conglomerate companies are the direct lobbyist against an overarching governing body for the fitness industry. Having a governing body would undoubtedly fracture this model and cause exponentially stricter regulations on not only the company but each individual coach.  

Please note that this by no means encompasses all training facilities and coaches. The certification that my five month old son, Luke is pictured with is just showing an example of how easy it is to be fooled as an individual interested in personal training. If you saw this certificate hanging up in a gym, you would be convinced the trainer is credible, right? However, all it took to get this certification printed was to fill out a name, email address, and take a simple test over the computer. Never once did I have to show identification or prove my age, education, background, etc. 

So how do we know what is what?  What certification should I look for and how do I know if my coach is actually qualified or even values what they do?

I preface the following with the preceding statement! 

A certification does not guarantee that an individual actually has the ability to teach or coach! There are plenty of highly intelligent individuals who are not positive or productive coaches.

A great way to make sure an individual values what they are doing is to find out if they have any higher education in the field they are working in (i.e. an undergraduate, masters or even doctorate).  More than just representing knowledge learned, it forecasts the idea that this individual valued their profession enough to take more years out of their life and dedicate them to this practice. Therefore an individual with multiple degrees in a field indicates that what they are currently doing is their TRUE PASSION.  

As for certifications here is a list of some with their pre-requisites and standards next to them.  

The bolded certifications listed are the ones we require as a staff at Athletes Warehouse.

The Secret to Building an Elite Athlete From Adolescence

By no means am I a parent, nor am I planning on giving the readers a rant about the increasing amount of sedentary behavior in our youth. That is a different issue entirely. What I am going to shed light on is the importance of free play during a youth athlete’s childhood. As Sports Performance Professionals, we are witness to our youth athletes playing more and more organized sports (facilitated by a coach) than ever. At points, organized style of play can be very beneficial to specific skill acquisition. Writing this article feels a bit hypocritical. However, I am going to go into detail on how free play can build a tremendous amount of speed, agility, and overall fitness, and how we as strength and conditioning professionals can facilitate this type of play into our training sessions.

When prescribing agility drills to our athletes we attempt to make them as chaotic and reactive as possible. Playground games are a critical time of development in a youth athlete’s development. A game of tag essentially encompasses every foundation of agility found in field and court sports. It requires quick acceleration, creative change of direction, and fast reactive decision making. In addition, the use of “Four Square” (Sometimes called box ball) has been a way we implement coordination into agility work. It’s amazing to see the diverse ways athletes move while playing this game. A structured agility drill is rhythmic and repetitive, a game of tag or four square is chaotic and constantly changing, just like on the field.

We love to utilize equipment such as gymnastics rings and parallel bars to allow the athlete a creative outlet in building upper body strength and body awareness in space. The jungle gym and action of hanging from one’s upper extremities is an innate primal movement. When our young athletes are on the playground hanging from monkey bars they are building both overhead stability and strength through the shoulder as well as building hand and grip strength. These are critical foundations for athletes in building a resilient and injury free upper body later into their athletic careers.

Regardless of whether we are strength and conditioning coaches or skill coaches, allowing the athlete to make a mistake and self-correct through repetition is how true performance gains are acquired. When a group of athletes come into the building they immediately run to the turf, grab a ball, start playing something. This is a great thing. They are warming up, and their minds are acclimating to being in the gym and completing physical tasks. It is amazing to see the creativity and ideas that they will come up with during free play. They attempt and make plays that they never would have in a practice setting. This is how true skill is acquired. The point being, we must not overcoach our athletes.

The take away from this information is that coaching our athlete’s at a young age is a delicate process. Structured coaching is important to create a system of organized skills for the athlete. On the contrary, free play will allow the athlete to lay a physical foundation of agility and fitness that will benefit their training process for the rest of their careers. We may never know the exact athletic benefits athletes receive from free play. A great athlete who appears to be a naturally efficient mover generally cannot pinpoint why or how they move so well. However, we do know that from observation, young athletes who are more involved in free play outside of practice perform better in our facility than those who do not. It is easy to pick out an athlete who is over-coached and involved in too many organized sports. They generally have trouble in drills that require fast adaptation and reaction to the environment. To all strength and conditioning professionals, I encourage you to allow your athletes the opportunity to have freedom throughout various drills as they will find themselves ingraining skills that will transfer to their sport.