Monthly Archives: April 2013

Beware of Youth Sports Camps! by: Rick Howard

Unfortunately, regular participation in organized youth sports does not ensure adequate exposure to skill- and health-related fitness activities, and sport training without preparatory conditioning does not appear to reduce the risk of injury in youngsters ( With disturbing trends of eliminating or greatly reducing physical education, ill-advised focus on early sport specialization, not giving kids time for free play and the lack of emphasis on developing fundamental fitness skills before engaging in sports, does it make sense to send preadolescents to a sports camp? Many of these camps do not support physical literacy and long term athlete development.

Quality sports camps for preadolescents should teach ALL attendees the progressions and developmental combinations for fundamentals of:

  • health-fitness and skills-fitness activities integrated into the practice design
  • the game and how to play a variety of positions
  • the fundamentals of playing a variety of games and a variety of positions.
  • AND all that needs to be balanced with continued development of fundamental movements:
  • Body Management Skills
    1. Rolling
    2. Stopping
    3. Bending
    4. Twisting
    5. Landing
    6. Stretching
    7. Climbing

8. Static and Dynamic Balancing
9. Turning

  • Locomotor Skills
    1. Crawling
    2. Running
    3. Galloping
    4. Walking
    5. Hopping
    6. Skipping
    7. Dodging

8. Jumping


  • Object Control Skills
    1. Throwing
    2. Catching
    3. Striking
    4. Bouncing
    5. Dribbling
    6. Kicking

Ignoring teaching the fundamentals of movement skills for lifelong movement and sports is like expecting kids to take algebra without mastering numbers, place values, operations, fractions and decimals, and problem solving.

Noteworthy findings from a recent study, Risks of Specialized Training and Growth in Young Athletes: a Prospective Clinical Cohort Study ( ) include:

  • young athletes who spent more hours per week than their age playing one sport – such as a 12-year-old who plays tennis 13 or more hours a week – were 70 percent more likely to experience serious overuse injuries than other injuries
  • young athletes were more likely to be injured if they spent more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spent in unorganized free play — for example, playing 11 hours of organized soccer each week, and only 5 hours of free play such as pick-up games
  • athletes who suffered serious injuries spent an average of 21 hours per week in total physical activity (organized sports, gym and unorganized free play), including 13 hours in organized sports. By comparison, athletes who were not injured, participated in less activity – 17.6 hours per week in total physical activity, including only 9.4 hours in organized sports

The authors recommend:

  • do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence. Encourage early diversification in playing a range of sports
  • young athletes should not spend more hours per week in organized sports than their ages. Do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play
  • do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one-to-three months each year (not necessarily consecutively).

•    take at least one day off per week from training in sports.

Additional recommendations from US Lacrosse’s Position Statement on Youth Participation ( include:

  • provide 1-2 days off per week from competitive sports.
  • provide 2-3 months away from a specific sport during the year.
  • emphasize fun, safety and sportsmanship as goals of sport.
  • check that training and playing time increase no more than 10 percent each week.
  • allow children to participation on only one team per season.
  • reduce excessive playing time in all day, weekend tournaments.
  • athletes at the U-9, U-11, U-13 and U-15 level should have at least 2-3 months away from sport specific training and competition during the year.
  • athletes at the U-9, U-11, U-13 and U-15 level should play on only one lacrosse team during a season. If an athlete is playing on more than one team in the same season, they should not participate for more than 16-20 hours per week.
  • tournaments should not be played at the U-9 level. The emphasis at this level should remain on skill development and team concepts.
  • All-Star teams should not be created at the U-9 and U-11 levels.

When searching for the best sports camps for preadolescents, consider those that meet the above criteria and develop athleticism, not sport-specificity. Sport-specific camps might not provide the instruction and opportunity for kids to develop their preparatory fitness and skills. Multi-sport camps would be a great idea to allow kids the opportunity to learn and sample many different sports and activities. It is the kids’ proficiency, self-efficacy, and positive exposure that will help them develop to their potential. Use the extra time for free play and family fitness fun!

LTAD Models and Filling the Talent Pool by Rick Howard

We are all “athletes”

Long term athletic development (LTAD) is a hot topic. I am excited to be part of two national initiatives to identify how best to implement a long term plan for children and youth in the US. I feel that LTAD is not the best name for a long-term plan to engage kids in a lifelong effort to not only play sports but also be physically active across the lifespan.  Being “athletic,” as it relates to having motor skill competence, self-efficacy of movement skills, and positive experiences in physical education, sports, and play are key indicators of continued participation in sports and physical activity. If athletic is properly defined, we can all agree that it is appropriate, but other terms such as participant, youth, or physical activity have been suggested. Some key contributors to the plan may be turned off by the term athletic, so it is critical to the success of an LTAD plan that all key players in youth sport, recreation, physical education, health, government and education agree on the terminology in order to work together to make an LTAD model a successfully implemented reality.

LTAD models and filling the Talent Pool

To fill the talent pool, we need to provide ALL kids multiple opportunities to participate in a wide variety of sports and physical activities. LTAD models create a generic guide that can be used to plan the long-term phases and progressions of any sport/activity. With our current over-emphasis on product (winning, competition, and early sport specialization) and our under-emphasis on process (learning fundamental motor skills and applying them in a variety of activities, based on where each child is on the developmental continuum) we clearly need a document to guide and educate coaches, parents, teachers and other persons of influence to do what is best for kids.

The cornerstone of an effective LTAD model is an early start (often between 6 and 8 years of age) on learning fundamental movement skills in a fun, interactive, and dynamic environment. Part of physical literacy is that powerful movement vocabulary must be taught before specific sports skills can be learned and applied. This is why it is so critical to have a certified movement professional, that is, quality physical education teacher, at the elementary level. Without successful adaptation within the critical preadolescent years, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage youngsters in physical activity and nearly impossible to coach them on the path to the master level of athletics when they reach adolescence.

The most popular model to date is the Canadian LTAD model (  The visual representation of their model looks like this:

The Canadian model established clear stages for developing physical literacy and is predominantly physiological in design (more so than social and psychological).  While it has an exit to their Active for Life stage it does not include re-entry points for physical activity throughout the year, which I feel is extremely important (see Ford: for more information on this key topic). For example, when kids are pushed into early specialization in one sport and they end up not being as competitive as their peers by age 10 or 11, they have not only lost out on key periods of developing fundamental movement skills but also often find themselves without the skill set for other sports and activities and drop out entirely. Key Ingredients for a successful model, then, include identifying key participants, focusing on positive youth development, and incorporating both sports and play.

Challenges to Implementation

Establishing a national model for LTAD is imminent, but there are several reasons we cannot simply adopt a model already created:

  • US Sports model differs from other nations– we do not have a government run sport system and our school-based sports program is unique. Funding, equitable access, and partnering need to be addressed as appropriate to each sport program, community, and stakeholder.
  • Not every sport progresses in parallel and not every participant progresses at the same rate– many models follow a chronological age format with sports developmental levels based on age groups, which may not be the best way to set cutoffs and categories.
  • Requires paradigm shift from product to process– our culture is so ingrained with our “win at all cost, no matter what age” mentality that it is going to take a Herculean effort by everyone involved to change that mindset.
  • Need all shareholders to buy in for maximum implementation– there are many agencies, institutions, systems and individuals that must come together to provide a consistent message that positive youth physical, social, and psychological development is Priority #1.

I will keep you posted on my blog as we continue to develop the plan and work on the implementation strategy.

Playing lots of games without practicing is like taking lots of tests without studying (Learning)


(A related article I wrote for the National Strength and Conditioning Association can be found here: )

10 Ways Strongman Training Improves Athleticism is a great site for information on strength training. I recently had this article accepted on their site.

Ten Ways Strongman Training Improves Athleticism

By: Rick Howard, M.Ed, CSCS, *D, USAW


The best definition for athleticism I have seen comes from Vern Gambetta: Athleticism is the ability to execute athletic movements at optimum speed with precision, style and grace in the context of the sport or activity. The interrelated components of athleticism include strength, explosive coordination, energy, flexibility, and endurance. Strongman training can be used to improve these qualities in a linear training model either during general physical preparation (off-season training) for athletes of other sports,  as sport-specific training (late off-season to early pre-season), or as strongman-specific training. Strongman training has also been incorporated into non-linear models and conjugate training (such as Westside). Whichever way strongman training is implemented, athleticism is enhanced– here are 10 ways:

  1. Develops horizontal force production. Most sports occur while moving and require horizontal force production in order to move, while many traditional strength training exercises, such as squats and bench presses, move through a specific bar path vertically.
  2. Carrying vs. lifting.  Carrying exercises (sometimes referred to as dynamic resistance) challenge core stabilization differently than lifting exercises do, and better match the unpredictable external forces of contact sports, in particular.
  3. Imperfection training. In order to avoid injury (but often can lead to injury), exercises are often prescribed either on machines or familiar exercises with perfect technical execution. Effective injury prevention techniques include learning how to miss a lift and imperfection training, which Mel Siff refers to as “the capability of coping with unexpected and sub-optimal conditions.” These techniques better prepare athletes for potentially harmful situations. Strongman training is a great way to train the effects of shifting of sand, fluid, or buckshot to stabilize an object.
  4. Complement to traditional strength training. No question, powerlifting and Olympic lifts are the foundation of strength training programs, but strongman training provides an excellent application of many of these lifts as well as alternative methods for developing fitness attributes.
  5. Improves all strength attributes. Strongman training can improve speed-strength, strength-speed, maximum strength, hypertrophy, and strength-endurance. Programs can be written that are strongman-only training or strongman exercises infused into more traditional strength training programs.
  6. Sport-specific movement. Triple extension (hips, knees, and ankles) is a requisite for explosiveness seen in many sports and strongman exercises such as atlas stones require coordinated triple extension. Grip strength, holding (such as with sandbags), and releasing of objects all factor into sport-specific movements and enhanced athleticism.
  7. Adds variety to training program. This is especially valuable for those of us who have been training for many years and for those who have gotten stale following a structured linear program. For me, strongman training has reinvigorated my overall training plan and focus.
  8. Improves anaerobic endurance.  By manipulating training variables, such as completing as many reps as possible in prescribed time period,  increasing distance covered or increasing weight within prescribed distance, and shortening rest periods can lead to not only improvements in strength-endurance but also anaerobic work capacity, both of which contribute to delayed onset of fatigue.
  9. Isometric contractions revisited: static hold training. Most exercise routines include concentric (muscle shortens) and eccentric (muscle lengthens) muscle actions. Strongman has “reintroduced” the strength benefits of isometric (muscle length does not change) exercises. Strongman challenges the muscles isometrically when athletes attempt to hold extremely heavy objects for extended periods of time, such as farmers walk and sandbags. Increased isometric strength contributes to overall improvements in strength.
  10. Establishes teamwork and camaraderie. The strongman community is stronger than any individual lifter. Competitors celebrate each other’s success, use success to breed more success, and cultivate an environment where no excuses, maximum effort training is expected. That’s what teamwork is all about.


While modern strongman competitions date back to 1977 and individual feats of strength go back much further, contemporary methods of strongman training continue to evolve.  Use these 10 reasons (and others not listed here) to continue to improve strength and athleticism for yourself and your strength crew.


Gambetta, V. Athleticism. Retrieved from


Verkhoshansky, Y.  and Siff, M. Supertraining (6th ed.) Ultimate Athlete Concepts, 2009. P. 466-467.

Zemke, B. and Wright, G. The use of strongman type implements and training to increase sport performance in collegiate athletics. Strength Cond J 33: 1-7, 2011.


Training More Than Athletics...


To Discover What is New in Sport Sciences

The Healthy Schools LAB will heighten awareness and understanding of issues and opportunities surrounding health and wellness in the K to PhD education system and contribute to the collective development of a healthy, active society.


PE, Youth Sport and Physical Activity


The Learming Space- Coaching- Learning- Play

Functional Path Training

Fill the Talent Pool

The Educated Trainer

Information for future personal trainers

Changing the Game Project

Fill the Talent Pool

Human Kinetics Blog

The authority on physical activity