After spending some time working as a high school sports performance coach, I’ve realized that there are some principles that govern athletic performance. Some of these seem like common sense, but what I’ve learned these days is that common sense is actually somewhat uncommon. These nine principles form the baseline of what I wish every high school athlete knew.
1. More Isn’t Always Better
Just like anything, too much of a good thing becomes a problem. Lifting weights and training in general is no different. Too many young athletes assume that if they get stronger lifting three or four days a week, lifting 5 or 6 days a week should make them the Incredible Hulk by spring football. The problem is that everything is good until increasing amounts don’t add results and anything more than that actually becomes detrimental.
Here’s an example. Have a spoonful of your favorite ice cream and try to tell me that you don’t want more. Now, try eating two containers of your favorite ice cream and see how you feel after that. See the difference? Somewhere in between those two extremes lies the perfect amount. It’s different for everything, but for teenage athletes, it sits somewhere around three to four lifting sessions per week.
2. Master the Technique
Plain and simple, lifting weights with bad technique is an injury waiting to happen. On top of this, doing exercises incorrectly won’t even improve your performance because you’ll be abusing your muscles and building bad movement patterns. Focus on your technique first, then accomplish the exercise at the right speed, and then worry about adding weight to the bar. Most athletes do this in reverse order. Be the smart one and keep yourself healthy.
3. You Can’t Out-Train a Bad Diet
No matter how hard you train, you’ll never be able to counteract the effects of a poor diet. The food you eat provides the fuel that your body needs to sustain you through those grueling workouts and to recover from them when it’s over. So, not only does a bad diet prevent you from growing new muscle after an intense workout, but it prevents you from even having the energy to make it through it. So, instead of walking off the court and stuffing your face with whatever you can get from the nearest drive-thru, make an effort to eat a meal high in protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates like chicken, steamed vegetables, and brown rice.
4. Focus on Recovery
Nighttime is when your body produces all the hormones that allow your muscles to grow and for you to neurologically engrave all the new motor patterns that you developed at practice, like hitting a ball to the opposite field or learning how to cross a ball with your left foot at soccer practice. The problem is that when you don’t get enough sleep to recover from training, you’ll go into the next day still fatigued from the previous workout. Do this enough times and you’ll be over trained and at risk for an injury. Instead, aim for eight hours of sleep every night to be at your best.
5. Be a Good Teammate
Nobody gets there on their own. That was true before you and it still will be long after you’ve hung up your cleats. Build relationships with those committed to working just as hard as you while holding each other accountable to the goals that you’ve set for yourselves and your team. If everyone works, everyone wins.
6. Begin with the End in the Mind
Nobody starts building a skyscraper without deciding how many floors it’s going to have and no one starts a trip without deciding where he or she is going. By the same token, you shouldn’t start down the path of self-improvement without deciding what you want to look or play like when it’s all said and done. Start with a mental image of your finished product and let that be the target that you work towards.
7. You Have To Move Well To Play Well
Remember that you have to make plays if you want to contribute to your team’s success. This means that all the strength in the world won’t help if you move like you’re running through quicksand. Incorporate some mobility work into every single one of your workouts to make you more like a leopard and less like a sloth. Also, it may not be a bad idea to leave the weights alone every once and a while and work through some body-weight/calisthenic exercise circuits. They’re a great change of pace to the typical routine, and, best of all, they’ll help you move well, which should give you more opportunities to play well.
8. Everyone Has Bad Days
Understand that the path to achievement isn’t a smooth one. There will be setbacks along the way. Injuries, slumps, and training days where you just feel zapped are just a few of the things that threaten to take the wind out of your sails. But as Oliver Goldsmith said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” When those days come, and believe me they will, remember that the victory belongs to those who refuse to quit.
9. Consistency Wins
Be consistent. Missing one training day turns in to two days and before you know it you’ve missed a week. Fix this by putting on your hard hat every day and going to work. This doesn’t mean that you’re lifting weights from sun up to sun down, rather you’re looking for some way to improve every day. There’s an old saying among lifters, “He who trains the longest, gets the strongest.” Don’t neglect the advantage you give yourself by consistently showing up and going to work.
By Carl Galloway, MA, CSCS