B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 32
Part I: Using tryouts to get your athletes focused on fitness.
By Mike Mejia, CSCS
Now that the summer travel season is winding down and tryouts for next years’ teams are practically upon us, coaches are naturally looking to fill out their rosters with the best available talent. Besides just evaluating lacrosse skills, though, tryouts also offer the perfect opportunity to get your athletes focused on what they need to improve during the offseason.
This means a lot more than simply encouraging your players to sign up for every lacrosse clinic and off-season tournament they can find. Instead, take the time to stress to kids the importance of improving their level of physical conditioning and overall athleticism. While working on the tactical aspects of the game can certainly help, being stronger, faster and more resistant to injury by the time next season rolls around will have an even greater impact on their performance.
This doesn’t just apply to older players, by the way. In fact, starting younger kids off on the right track by doing age appropriate stretching and strengthening drills is one of the best ways to build a sound athletic foundation and set the stage for more advanced forms of training down the road. It will also enable them to make more impressive gains when they begin said training, because they’ll have a greater “movement vocabulary” to draw from.
So, in this first of a three part series, I’ll be kicking things off with conditioning tips for players in the 7- to 10-year age group. Although the idea of structured “training” for kids this young may seem a bit odd to some, in truth, this age offers the perfect time for young athletes to start working towards improving things like balance, coordination, agility and systemic strength.
They don’t necessarily have to start lifting “weights”; simple body weight exercises like squats, crab walks and short duration planks will allow them to get stronger and provide the physical base necessary for improved running mechanics, as well as better directional changes. Add in some fitness games like “wall ball” and “Coach Says” and you’ve got all the makings of a sound developmental fitness program.
Here are few simple drills to get your players started with. Remember to stress the aspect of having fun! Kids won’t do this stuff if it’s too structured and perceived as being a chore. In the exercise descriptions below, I’ve incorporated some tips to make the drills a lot more entertaining.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the next installment, when I’ll give you some great conditioning ideas for kids in that middle school age range. You’ll definitely want to check that out — especially since that’s where the training parameters for boys and girls start to differ a bit.
Guidelines: Encourage your athletes to try all, or at least some, of these drills a couple of times per week throughout the off-season. When doing them all, they can make them into a little circuit workout of sorts, by going from one drill straight to the next and then taking a break once they’ve finished.
1. Balancing Ankle Set with catch (a.k.a. Wall Ball)
Benefit: Improves balance and helps develop hand-eye coordination.
Execution: Stand facing a few feet away from a wall. Next, balance on one leg as you toss a tennis ball off the wall with your right hand and catch it with your left. Without putting your foot down, toss the ball back from left to right. Continue until you’ve done 8-10 cycles and repeat with the other side.
* Tip: Male it a game! Compete against a friend, or sibling to see who has the fewest drops.
2. Crab Walks
Benefit: Builds strength in the hips, upper body and core while also helping develop coordination.
Execution: Sit down on the ground and place your hands on the ground behind you with your fingers facing away from your body. Next, press your feet into the floor and lift your butt a few inches off the ground. Keeping your butt off the ground, start walking backwards like a crab, trying to coordinate your opposite arm and leg to move at the same time. Walk for a specified distance before lowering down to the ground.
* Tip: Try an obstacle course! Set up cones in a zig-zag fashion behind you and try to navigate your way around them without knocking them over or letting your butt touch the ground.
3. Short hold planks
Benefit: Increases core strength without ingraining faulty postural mechanics.
Why short hold? Because most kids lack the strength to do a proper plank for any appreciable length of time with good form! What good is a doing a plank with your lower back and hips sagging, your head hanging like a bowling ball, or your butt way up in the air?
Instead, teach young athletes how to get into a proper plank position and work on increasing the duration over time. Start with 10-15 seconds and work up from there. Doing 3-4 good planks with a slight break in between has a lot more value than doing one 30-second plank that looks like a train wreck!
4. Wall Acceleration March & Seated Arm Swings
Benefits: Wall Acceleration Marches help with sprinting mechanics by teaching athletes to hold a proper running posture, while building strength and improving mobility in the lower body. Besides also helping to improve running posture and core stability, seated arm swings offer a great way to learn proper arm rhythm while running.
Execution – Wall Acceleration Marches: Stand facing a wall. Place the palms of your hands flat against it, about shoulder height. Angle your body so that there is approximately a 45-degree angle through your ankles, knees, hips and head. Lift one leg so that the thigh is parallel to the ground and support your weight on the ball of your other foot. Drive the elevated leg back toward the ground so that its ball contacts the ground. As you do this, pull the other leg back up into the start position and hold for a split second. Continue marching until you’ve done 8-10 repetitions with each leg.
*Tip: Once you get good at the March, make the drill more fun and challenging by driving the knees up explosively, as seen in the video below.
Execution – Seated Arm Swings: Sit on the ground with a nice tall posture, so that your shoulders are directly over your hips and your legs are straight out in front of you. With both arms bent at about 90 degrees, begin with one hand positioned in line with your eye socket and the other hand in line with your hip pocket. Next, keep your legs straight and start gently swinging your arms as if running at about half speed, making sure to emphasize the arm swing coming from the shoulders and not the elbows. After a few seconds, pick up the intensity so that from the 10- to 20-second mark, you’re moving your arms as if running at full speed. When you’re going full speed, try to maintain a tall posture, keep your hands loose and relaxed and continue driving the arm swing from the shoulders. Work up to 20 seconds per set.
*Tip: Make it a game! Have a coach or parent yell “freeze” at any point during the drill. See if you still have a tall posture and proper arm position when you come to an abrupt stop.
5. Body Weight Squats
Benefit: Builds lower body strength, while helping to improve ankle and hip mobility. This also makes it easier for young athletes to get into a proper “ready” athletic position.
Execution: Standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulders’ width apart, begin by jutting your hips back slightly to initiate the squatting movement. As you drive your hips back, keep your chest tall and bend your knees, while placing most of your weight into your heels and outer portions of your feet. Once you’ve reached the point where your thighs are parallel to the ground, press back up to the starting position and continue until you’ve done 8-10 repetitions.
*Tip: Tell kids to pretend they’re standing on a large paper towel and have them try to rip it apart with their feet. In addition to keeping the butt back and chest up, this will help emphasize that the glutes are working hard and lead to better squatting mechanics.
6. Coach Says
Benefit: Helps improve reaction time, spatial awareness, change of direction and much more. This is a great drill to do with teams.
Execution: Line the athlete or athletes up across the field from where the coach is standing (a distance of about 50 yards or so usually works well). The coach then yells out a signal for a drill such as “Coach says, skip forward.” The athletes then start skipping toward the coach until he, or she yells out “Coach says, stop!” He or she can then have the athletes proceed with any number of drills, i.e. jumping jacks in place, side shuffles, planks, crab walks, back pedals, etc. The only limitation to the drill is the coach’s creativity. Keep them going for a good 2-3 minutes at a time. This serves as a great pre-game warm-up!
*Tip: Make it a game! Remind athletes that they can only move, or stop when they hear the command “Coach Says.”