SKILLS CAMP? OR, STRENGTH & CONDITIONING?
That’s a great question, and one we hear all the time. We can’t think of a better way to help you determine what’s best for your athlete than to share this insightful Q&A article with one of the world’s best trainers, Mike Boyle.
Mike Boyle is known internationally for his pioneering work in the field of Strength & Conditioning and is regarded as one of the top experts in the area for Sports Performance Training. He has made his mark on the industry over the past 30 years with an impressive following of professional athletes, from the US Women’s Olympic teams in Soccer and Ice Hockey to the Boston Bruins, Boston Breakers, New England Revolution, and most recently the Boston Red Sox. His client list over the years reads like a Who’s Who of athletic success in New England and across the country including legendary Boston names such as Nomar Garciaparra, Cam Neely, and Ray Bourque. In 2012, Michael was selected to become part of the Boston Red Sox coaching staff, acting as a strength and conditioning consultant for the team.
Skills development is a driving force in youth athletics. The “10,000 hour” rule has propagated a demand for time in sport over any other athletic improvements. What are your thoughts on this trend?
First off, skills improvement (particularly in a more advanced player) only has about a 10% window of improvement. Physical strength and conditioning and the corresponding ability to consistently demonstrate skill can improve by 100% in an advanced athlete who has no strength and conditioning experience. The take away is really that greater performance tends to come from size, speed etc., not a real change in skills. Once a high level of sport skill is established it is not easy to improve.
As for the 10,000 hour idea, parents have to realize that proper strength and conditioning needs to be part of the 10,000 hours. Playing a sport is not like playing guitar or violin. Athletes need the physical abilities as well as the skills.
When is less more? Over the course of the year, how much time should be spent in sport and how much should be spent in strength and conditioning?
Serious athletes needs a minimum of two hours a week of strength and conditioning on a year round basis and, have one off-season in every sport. It’s fine for kids to play two sports at a time, but it is not fine to play one sport year round. The reason we see hip injuries in soccer and hockey and arm injuries in baseball is kids playing year round too soon. Early high school might be the time to really consider specialization. Sooner than that and we get the “small base, small pyramid” effect. A good athletic base is broad at the bottom and is composed of many sports experiences. Adults need to be specialists; young athletes need to be generalists.
If a child (in the middle school + age range) is playing two sports per season, are they getting enough strength and conditioning?
If they are not doing strength and conditioning, they are not getting strength and conditioning. Sports (depending on the sport) may provide conditioning but, none will really help to improve strength or power. Strength and power work needs to be separate.
What trends can you point to in athletes who either single sport and/or only focus on skill?
The big trend is kids getting injured at alarming rates. We are seeing “adult” injuries in children. Parents need to parent. Just because your kid loves a sport does not mean you need to let them play it year round. Parenting is about making decisions in a child’s best interest. It is in the best interest of the child to play multiple sports up until at least 14 years of age. There are more examples than not of pro/upper level athletes who played multiple sports through high school.
At what age, if ever, should a child commit to one sport?
As mentioned above 14 might be the earliest that I would let a child be exclusive to one sport. The key to a great peak is a great base. I like to tell people we are trying to build a pyramid, not the Bunker Hill Monument.
Obviously you believe strength and conditioning work provides huge benefits on the playing field, court, rink, etc. How do you translate these benefits to the kids when they are at the training with a MBSC (Next Level’s program is similar)?
There is nothing like strength and conditioning to enhance an athlete’s performance. There is a reason that every high level athlete in every sport is involved in strength training. To get faster you need a bigger engine. Speed is the universal language of team sports and the quickest way to improve speed is to get stronger. We also know that functional strength can reduce and or prevent injury. Everyone wants their child to excel and, be injury free. Strength and conditioning allows both of those things to happen. In addition, conditioning work allows an athlete to excel at those critical late game moments.
There are many in this area that claim to know how to create a strength and conditioning program for an athlete. How can parents decide if one program is better than other?
The biggest question parents should ask is: “How current is the programming?” – i.e. when was the last time the programming was updated and the philosophy/training methods were evaluated, questioned and changed to ensure they are keeping pace with the most current thinking. The industry is progressing quickly – so must your strength and conditioning program.
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