There’s one word to describe my 2018: slammed.
Admittedly, I don’t know how many athletes walked into the JDyer Strength and Conditioning facility, or showed up to my pitch sessions, but it’s safe to say, it was a solid year of getting hundreds of athletes stronger, faster, and more resilient both mentally and physically.
Moreover, it was a stellar year for spending a tremendous amount of time immersed in my work, instead of working at it and going to conferences.
Don’t get me wrong: conferences are great for learning from other experts and taking away new training methodology gems, but I’d argue that hands-on coaching is the best way to learn. More often than not, training athletes and being forced to progress and regress on the fly is way better than scribbling in your notebook in a dull, lifeless conference room.
And boy, did I do a lot of coaching this past year. Pretty sure I blacked out. And to make a rough estimate, I clocked in over 15,000 hours of coaching athletes. I don’t know, just a guess.
Some other notable things that happened in 2018:
– I got boys soccer players to love strength training.
– I cried 20 times sending female athletes off to college.
– I cried 20 times again when they came back to see me in the gym.
– I double-booked two teams and had to train 40 athletes by myself. <— don’t try this at home.
– I trained online clients across the world.
– I wrote a book on youth soccer fitness training.
– I sold my book to hundreds of coaches across the world.
– I still managed to see all of my friends, family, and loved ones.
– I learned I was a unicorn.
Rarely, do I get this pompous, but I’m proud of myself for everything I did in 2018. I’d argue these successes wouldn’t have been possible without my personal mantra: be kind, work hard.
Given all of these accomplishments, of course, I still got schooled. As much as I think I know what I’m talking about, I don’t.
Even the coaches who have been in the game and clocked in the most hours still have an insatiable desire to evolve, and have a ton of knowledge to acquire. Learning, then, becomes an ongoing, lifelong process for people who master their crafts.
With that said, here are 18 things I learned on youth soccer fitness training in 2018:
1. Fitness should be fun.
If you’re a coach who runs their 10-year old players into the ground, you need to rethink your life.
Here’s the thing: if we want to instill a long-term passion for fitness in our kids, we need to make it less of a burden and more of a playful activity.
Youth fitness, to that end, should be competitive, yet carefree. Set up obstacle courses. Play tag. Design creative agility games. Make everything a fun competition:
Kids remember the sessions that were intense, yet fun. And if you’re a good coach, you can sprinkle both of these components into your training.
2. When it comes to core training, ask “why.”
What irks me the most about core training is the lack of “why” behind it. More often than not, youth coaches have kids perform countless Sit-Ups that don’t have any real translation to soccer.
Why are you programming 100 Sit-Ups? How is this helping kids withstand force? How is this helping kids stabilize their bodies and maintain balance?
Yeah, I figured you didn’t have an answer to these questions.
3. Both internal and external cues work for kids.
When it comes to cueing movements, it does our athletes a huge disservice to be married to one way.
Sure, there’s research behind the use of external cues, but screw research.
There have been a few instances I’ve external-cued the crap out of an athlete (well, because the Journal of Strength and Conditioning said so), but it didn’t work. This is when research should be tossed in the trash.
Both forms of cueing work, and it comes down to knowing how your athletes respond best. The end.
4. Lead by example.
If you want your youth athletes to become more fit, strong, and powerful, maybe, just maybe you should lead the way first.
After all, kids are susceptible to learned behaviors and need role models to show them the light.
If you’re overweight, sedentary, and a lazy piece of crap who eats fried bar food, then I’m not surprised your youth athletes aren’t inspired to hit the gym and lead healthy lives.
Lead by example and practice what you preach.
5. Give kids autonomy.
Putting kids in a structured training environment is good so they learn proper technique and don’t get hurt, but it’s okay to leave wiggle room for autonomy.
As an example, once my youth athletes learn the fundamental core movements, I leave them sample circuits and allow them to choose the one they want to do that day.
There’s just something magical about allowing them to make their own decisions, especially because they’re so bombarded with instructions and rigid rules during the school day.
6. Don’t kill me: back squats aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
For the population I work with, I’ve found programming back squats was doing my athletes a disservice. Kids are far better off starting with Goblet Squats Or Landmine Squats so they can groove hip mobility, core stability, and hone better balance. I wrote an extensive anti-back-squat article here.
7. Don’t stick with the same warm-up for a training session.
The warm-up should be preparation for the session you’re about to run.
Especially if you’re a youth strength and conditioning coach, you should consider switching up your warm-up based on the session that day. As an example, perhaps on agility day you perform warm-up movements and stretches in all planes of motion, or perhaps on upper body day, you utilize shoulder, back, and core activating drills in your warm-up. Or perhaps, on recovery day, you listen to classical music while diaphragmatic breathing and sipping matcha tea.
8. Agility, Change of Direction, and Footwork are different.
You ready for me to mind f*ck you?
Change of direction and footwork are NOT agility. They are components of it.
Let me explain: just because a player can tap his feet through a ladder at rapid speed, doesn’t mean he will be able to maneuver around defenders like Messi.
When it comes to agility, we must train all components, such as strength, power, mobility, footwork and coordination, and reactivity. Here is an article I wrote on how to train footwork. Here is an article explaining change of direction and agility.
9. Sometimes, you have to do stupid things.
Taking the conversation back to youth fitness being fun, here’s something ridiculous we did post-training:
Sure, training sessions should be intense and purposeful, but the world won’t end if you get goofy once in a while. In fact, the kids will thank you.
10. Have passion.
There are a lot of boring clones of trainers out there.
Look, fool. I don’t care if you’re explaining to kids athletic stance, protein synthesis, or contralateral coordination, have passion and energy behind your voice. They’ll feed off of it and deliver their energy back.
11. No one will get perfect form right away.
Back in the day when I got certified as a strength coach, I expected my athletes to be walking CSCS Exam textbook exercise technique poster children.
Boy, was I ignorant that perfect form takes a while to achieve. Based on the long process of motor skill learning as well as strength development, for most youth athletes, it takes months to master certain movements.
Take this box jump for example:
It took a few weeks for him to nail down his countermovement (sinking the hips back rapidly), and another few weeks for him to fully extend his hips on the jump.
“But what about his mediocre landing?” you ask.
My answer: we’re working on it. Too, this will be the next step in the teaching process. And you know what? This is the exact reason why I love training youth athletes: everything I preach is about focusing on the long-term, as well as allowing kids to blossom over time. Nothing comes easy or quickly, no doubt. This is athletic performance, you moron.
Form, therefore, will never be perfect right away. As a coach, you should be leaning into the process more than everyone else. ;-O
12. Your athletes will school YOU.
Every day my athletes are teaching me. Whether someone has quirky biomechanics, or whacky coordination, or asymmetrical hips, I’m learning how to adapt my training daily.
Recently, I’ve found my athletes are ongoing coaching education for me. And for that, I’m grateful.
Oh, also check out this fun core drill my athletes showed me:
13. Up the challenge once basics are mastered.
Take any basic movement and come up with a creative variation of it. After all, kids love to know they’re progressing and being challenged in some manner.
Here’s one example for you:
14. Conditioning doesn’t have to be formal.
I get asked about conditioning for under-10-year-olds all the time.
Here’s a solution: less video games, more playground. I promise the heart rate will spike just as much as running suicides.
15. Get your hands on as many youth training resources as possible.
Learning from youth fitness experts in the industry is a must for youth coaches and parents. If we want to evolve in our methods, we have to learn (and steal) from others.
Here’s my list to check out : Lee Taft, Jeremy Frisch, Rick Howard, Tony Moreno, and Ivi Casagrande.
16. Buy my book, too.
I wrote a book this year. And it’s amazing. <— my unbiased opinion.
You can get the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program here.
17. Programs will always be tweaked.
For the most part, strength and conditioning programs should follow a periodized, progressive template. However, stuff happens. Maybe the moon wasn’t full, maybe it rained, maybe an athlete had four games that weekend, or I don’t know, maybe Beyonce and Jay-Z broke up. Whatever happens, be ready to tweak programs constantly based on the times. Rarely do I stick to the script for a full microcycle.
18. Be kind. Work hard.
Maybe I’m being a spiritual zealot, but my coaching mantra has always been be kind, work hard.
For the past 7 years, it has boded well for me and has kept me afloat in an industry full of egos. Not only do I use this mantra in my career, but also in my relationships and friendships.
To this day, it hasn’t failed me.
And in the coming year of 2019, I will continue to walk the walk of being kind and working hard.
Thank you all for the support in 2018 and for making me better as a youth strength coach and human being.