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Toward a Youth Strength and Conditioning Specialist Certification to Fill the Talent Pool (Defining Quality Instruction) By: Rick Howard, M.Ed, CSCS, *D, USAW

The most popular blog to date. Still a huge topic of writing and conversation.

youth centered sports and fitness

The cornerstone for teaching and coaching youth properly designed, developmentally-appropriate strength and conditioning programming is quality instruction. Quality instruction is referred to in leading position statements and guidelines as a key component to safe and effective youth fitness, sports participation, and strength and conditioning programs. What defines quality instruction?

Top 10 Outcomes for Quality Instruction for Youth to Fill the Talent Pool

  1. Demonstrate a solid understanding of pediatric exercise science concepts and principles
  2.  Integrate factors along the developmental continuum, physically as well as psychosocially
  3. Appreciate the significance of simultaneously developing, refining, and mastering motor skills and muscle strength, as well as other contributory fitness attributes
  4. Recognize the important role of a long-term approach to talent development to fill the talent pool with as many youth as possible
  5. Implement key strategies for safety and practice design efficiency and effectiveness
  6. Apply the concept of periodization to program design
  7. Infuse coaching methods…

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Fitness Testing for Kids: What Exactly Should We Be Testing For?

Please see my latest blog, which was posted by Breaking Muscle!

Obese Not the Only Ones Lacking Definition! by Rick Howard, M.Ed., CSCS, *D, USAW

It is no wonder we can’t solve the obesity epidemic, we can’t even agree on definitions surrounding the issue to know which way to go. Consider the recent decision by the American Medical Association to recognize obesity as a disease. Two challenges to the decision are:

  1. How do we define disease?, and
  2. How do we define obesity?

Is obesity a disease? A syndrome? A condition?  A disorder? Surprisingly, there is no universally accepted definition of disease which guides us in achieving health outcomes.

  • Will the one third of the population considered obese now be encouraged to utilize and possibly be reimbursed for preventative services?


  • Will they rely on more medicine and expensive procedures?

How will we ultimately define obesity so that a large piece of the trillions of dollars in health care costs, reimbursement, and other passive costs that are dependent on the definition go to prevention (health care) and not medication and procedures (sick care)?

  • Will an integrated definition of obesity which considers lifestyle factors help people take personal responsibility for their health and assist others in their community?
  • Will the measure of obesity, body mass index (BMI), be accepted universally despite its limitations (which led the advisory group tasked with reporting on whether obesity should be a disease to say no, because of the issues with BMI)?
  • Will obesity in the context of other wellness factors be considered when seeking a shared definition?
  • Will obesity being classified as a disease impact other elements (social, psychological, etc.) of wellness for those affected?

Take a quick look at coincidental rising health care costs. In 2014, as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, it is predicted that 22 million fewer uninsured people will help drive costs up by 7.9% (2.1 percentage points higher than in the absence of reform). And, many of the newly uninsured will be younger and relatively healthier than currently insured individuals, so spending is predicted to increase on prescription drugs and physician and clinical services more so than acute care.

Do you sense what I am sensing? By proclaiming obesity a disease, insurers will be forced to cover a new growth industry — obesity medications and surgeries. While some remain hopeful that making obesity a disease will influence physicians to counsel their patients toward healthy lifestyle changes, including proper nutrition and physical activity, according to an excellent blog by Dr. Allison Bowersock, “evidence suggests doctors do not have adequate time to discuss weight management with their patients and do not have adequate training to do so. Many doctors report a lack of confidence in providing exercise recommendations for patients unless they have experience with a regular exercise program.”

So, how are we going to get exercise included in mainstream medicine? How do we make headway to get insurers, physicians, and lay people to recognize the benefit potential of proactive prescriptive wellness over reactive treatments? Current insurance reimbursement does not cover exercise prescription, although physical activity is the fourth primary risk factor for chronic disease, children that do not get proper exercise as youngsters are less motivated to be active adults, and even relatively small lifestyle improvements in adulthood, including exercise, carry significant health benefits.

To spread the word and begin a national movement toward taking seriously the benefits of exercise, friends and colleagues have coined the term exercise deficit disorder. Questions that need to be addressed include:

  • Why isn’t physical inactivity treated with the same vigor as smoking?
  • How do we engage children and adolescents in fun and developmentally-appropriate physical activity?
  • How do we ensure that quality physical education and quality instruction in sports and physical activity is available to every child?
  • What is the role of the medical community in combating obesity and physical inactivity?

The next question, therefore, is how will we educate the masses about the powerful benefits of physical activity? Many believe that school is the answer. After all, school is where the vast majority of our children go from age 5 through 18. At school, they can be exposed to physical activity throughout the day, quality physical education every day, and health information to help make positive choices. Uh-oh! More problems with definitions…

  • Is any bodily movement that uses energy enough for engaging young children in activities for a lifetime?
  • What defines quality physical education—is it fitness test scores? Lifetime fitness activities (who decides these?)?
  • Is health and physical education considered a highly valued subject in school? Do educators and administrators recognize the value of physical activity on not only health and well-being but on self-esteem, attendance and behavior, and academic outcomes?

But consider that, even if students received physical education for the recommended 30 minutes per day in elementary school (150 minutes/week), and half of the time spent in PE should be moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, we still have two issues to resolve:

  1. We are still short 30-45 minutes of physical activity each day. Can this be filled with recess and activity breaks every day? What happens if students do not receive PE every day and/or all year?
  2. Who is leading physical education and physical activity? In many states, the classroom teacher in a self-contained classroom (the students do not change classes for subjects)”teaches” PE. This is the most critical age for learning motor skills, health fitness and skills fitness, and we rely often on teachers with little, if any, experience in this area. Would we do this for fundamental concepts in reading or math?

The decision to include obesity as a disease raises more questions than it provides answers. Even some of the answers available to us are wrought with lack of clear, consistent definitions.

Clearly, Cross-sector collaboration is considered necessary for building healthier communities. But we need to set clear definitions, roles, and qualifications for each partner in order to best achieve health outcomes. It is time for everyone involved in the health and well-being profession to work together to improve physical activity levels, reduce obesity levels, promote health literacy and physical literacy, and let’s get our definitions in line to fill the talent pool!

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!


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