Youth Training: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In the summer I did an online course on youth training presented by a trainer named Mike Boyle. He was the trainer for Boston University, the USA Women’s National Soccer Team, the Boston Red Sox and so on. He’s done much research on youth training as well as raised 2 children of his own in a sporting environment. He has a lot of experience and a tremendous amount of knowledge in the field, so I dug into this course to see what I could learn from his expertise.

What I learned is that we have some major issues in our youth sporting world. We have a significant number of youths that are dropping out of sports. In a Canadian study it states 82 percent of kids dropout because of parent pressure and burnout. What responsibility do us parents have in this problem?  We see things that we know are not right and we keep doing them. We can see that youth sports are becoming very professionalized and we let it happen. The cost of club sports has skyrocketed and has become very elitist. The wealthy and affluent seem to have the advantage. Most clubs now are money making organizations with structured environments instead of our youth going out to play sports with their friends using creativity and imagination. The club coaches feed us with fear that our kids must do this, or they will fall behind. The kids need this, or they will not get a college scholarship. We fall for this mentality because we don’t know anything different. Especially if it our first child going through the “system”. Did you know 4% of athletes go on to play their sport in college and 1% go on to play a professional sport? 

Parents like me need to take a hard look at how we are impacting this high dropout rate. Often, we think our kids are miniature adults. Parents organize and run youth sports. Here is an example: Often kids play on fields too big for their little bodies. Mike Boyle shows a video of an experiment where they supersized a soccer field. They made a field that was about 3x the size of a regular 11 v 11 field. This was like what an 11-year-old experiences on a regular sized field. The adults had a miserable experience. They had to run too much, and it was hard and not enjoyable. One takeaway was that only the bigger more athletic kids can keep up. Often, parents push back at the whole idea of small sided games for kids however we need to match field sizes to kids sizes to make the experience more enjoyable. In addition, parent often have unrealistic expectations of what kids can handle. Parents ideas of success are to practice longer hours (more is better), get a good education and focus harder whereas kids want to have fun, play shorter hours, want to specialize in sport at older ages and want it to be their passion and not their parents. Where is the disconnect? I’m sure this makes for a lot of arguments. Parents need to look at their kids from a kid lens and not from an adult lens. I love this quote from Mike Boyle, “Prepare the child for the path not the path for the child”. Often, we try to remove obstacles instead of letting our kids work through obstacles. Are we expecting too much from our kids?

Letting kids fail is necessary for their success and development. Kids need to experience success and failure. Failure is learning. For kids to be on stacked teams and never learn to lose, have disappointments, or cry, tend to give up in the end. An important mentality in sport is to have grit and determination. If early succeeders don’t experience the ups and downs of wins and losses, in the end when it counts they will give up and quit. Early succeeders of don’t have grit, are bad teammates and lack work ethic. Sometimes their first disappointment is in college where they find it very difficult to work through tough situations when helicopter parents are not there to rescue. It is our responsibility to teach the right lessons. It is not always the most important thing to be on the best team but to find great coaches that are teaching the game the right way and to be on teams that win some and lose some games, so the kids can experience both success and failure. 

The good is that there are youth sport organizations that are attempting to find solutions to the dropout rate in sports. The long-term athletic development model is one that gives ideas as to how we can make sports more enjoyable and keep kids engaged and participating long-term. There are certainly problems with this philosophy, however, of utmost importance is that athletics are a long-term process. It’s emphasis is on the process and not the wins or being perfect but on doing the right things because it’s the right thing to do. “It’s a marathon not a sprint” so “Let the kids play”. Both are great quotes from Mike.

Better Balance Better Movement

An athlete must be in control of their environment by using their sport skills properly while many stimuli and obstacles are rushing at them. Balance and stability is a necessity for athletes to compete at a high level. Balance according to Chris Hobbs; Importance of Balance and Stability to Mastery of Sport Skills is “the ability to neutralize forces that would disturb equilibrium.  Stability is measured in the level at which one can retain one’s balance while experiencing factors that disturb balance. Stability is defined as “the level of challenge at which one can still balance.” Balance and stability are aspects of sport that may determine whether an athlete is successful in his/her sport.

There are four body systems that are responsible for balance according to an article called The Role of Balance in Sports. The vestibular system is the inner ear. There is fluid in the inner ear that stimulates little hairs and signals to the eye muscles to stay focused while the head is in motion. This helps eye hand coordination. This vestibular ocular reflex can be disrupted by concussions, inner ear infections or age. Vision also affects balance and performance. The fovea in the retina allows us to focus on details which is vital in athletics.

Proprioceptors in joints and ligaments help balance because they communicate to the brain and muscles during any change of direction. This can ultimately have an influence on one’s speed and agility. Lastly, muscle strength and endurance in the hips and core muscles affect balance.  When one is strong in these areas one can fend off opponents, perform for longer and ultimately “neutralize forces that would disturb equilibrium.”

What happens when an athlete is on the move and the opponent is attempting to unbalance him/her. Stability is something that can set an athlete apart in terms of athleticism and quality of performance. According to Chris Hobbs there are four principles to increase an athlete’s ability to stabilize oneself. First, an athlete with greater mass has greater stability. Second, an athlete can increase his/her stability with a wide base of support. Third, an athlete can increase stability by lowering his/her center of gravity. Lastly, an athlete can increase his/her stability by “extending his/her base of support in the direction of the oncoming force”. He/she can brace themselves, getting ready for the contact that is coming his/her way.

There are practical ways to train balance and stability. Dr. Cobb at Z-Health has some great training ideas that may improve an athletes balance. Here are some things that can be done to challenge balance. First our foot position can be altered. This is a progression from easiest to hardest.

o   Wide stance with bent knees

o   Wide stance with straight knees

o   Narrow stance with bent knees

o   Narrow stance with straight knees

o   Staggered feet (one in front of the other) with bent knees

o   Staggered feet with straight knees

o   Stand on 1 leg with bent knee

o   Stand on 1 leg with straight knee

To make this more challenging you can add head movements

o   Move your head up and down

o   Move your head side to side (side bending)

o   Rotate your head to the left and right

To make balance even more challenging try to do it with your eyes closed.

To improve balance, combine these different variations holding the movements for 15- 20 seconds. Perform them for 7-10 minutes 3 times per week.

Variety: The Spice of Life

When it comes to exercise there is not one way to exercise that works for everyone.  Some people love to swim, some love to run, some love to do yoga and some love to do really hard challenging workouts where they are pushed to the max.  There are people that love group exercise classes, some that love to be in a gym and some that use exercise in isolation to reboot mentally.  Whatever you choose, consider the health benefits of your favorite exercises.

Exercise such as running, swimming, biking or hiking that are performed for 2 minutes to whatever extended period of time are considered aerobic in nature.  Your muscles require oxygen to perform these for an extended period of time.  Such exercises elevate your heart rate usually at a steady rate.  Benefits such as an increase in heart and lung strength, improve endurance, burn calories to help lose weight, increase metabolism and various bodily processes, help build muscle, good mental health, increase blood flow to muscles and lowering resting heart rate are great reasons to perform aerobic type exercises.

Anaerobic conditioning is an excellent way to build muscle strength and build muscle.  Short duration, high intensity exercise that is done without oxygen uses more calories while exercising but even better, it burns calories when at rest following the exercise as well.  Sprints or exercise done at a high intensity for less than 2 minutes is a way in which to control weight, male bones and joints stronger, can boost vo2 max (more oxygen available) and can lower blood sugar. Overall, participants report having more overall energy as a result of including anaerobic activities into an exercise plan.

Plyometrics refer to explosive movements that are done with bodyweight or very light loads.  Jumping movements enhance the power in one’s legs.  Exercises such as squat jumps, box jumps or even jumping over a cone side to side are excellent options.  Plyometrics are good for challenging fast twitch muscle fibers, coordination and agility but a slows down aging.  

Weight training is another great way to build muscle strength.  In addition, it increases bone density.  Weight lifting helps make carrying out life’s daily activities easier.  When a person increases strength it’s easier to lift, move and carry objects.  Exercises such as leg press, seated rows, push ups, pull ups lunges are great exercises that can be done on either  machine or by adding hand weights for extra resistance.  

Balance and flexibility are important components to all exercise routines.  Balance helps prevent falls.  It is also important to be able to stabilize the body and control its movements. Balance makes movement more easier and more efficient.  Joga is a great exercise that challenges one’s balance and flexibility.  Flexibility keeps the body stretched out, muscles long, and helps stay limber with good range of motion.  The more mobile and stable your body is the more likely one is to prevent injury as well.  

A well balanced exercise program is recommended.  Balance your exercise program with multiple components of fitness to provide more health benefits.  Aerobic conditioning, anaerobic conditioning, plyometrics, weight training, balance, flexibility are only a few of the various components that you can use for your personal program.  Good health is the priority when designing an exercise routine.

Keeping Fun in the Game

Did you know 70% of youth drop out of youth sports by the age of 13? Rick Howard, who wrote an article titled “Developing Athleticism is the CORE of Positive Youth Development,” states that the reason for this is “the main reason youth play sports is fun and the reason they drop out is because that sport is no longer fun.”  Designing and implementing practices and conditioning programs that develop our athlete’s ability to move effectively for their sport and to encourage fitness into adulthood is the goal.  We need to be sure we are not training our children as mini adults but are teaching the skills necessary in their sport that is age appropriate. 

“Play” is an important component in athletics.  Brett Klika wrote an article “Powerful Play in Sports Performance Part 1”.  He says, “the number one determining factor in long term athletic success is most highly correlated with a child’s overall enjoyment with an activity.”  He also says, “While sports once served as a play based release…. our kids are often placed under increasing pressure to perform athletically instead of being an outlet.  Athletic performance is becoming a currency that stratifies many life opportunities for youngsters.  Play has become work for children. 

Rick Howard also wrote an article “Games to Support Physical Literacy and Long Term Athletic Development.”  He states, “Whether it was organized games like kickball, tag, red light or made up games, most kids were active and used a variety of movement patterns, trained all fitness attributes and had fun doing so.  With the adult driven, specialization focused world of youth sports, these games are becoming less common in today’s age”.

The problem seems to be that sport is becoming much like a job. However, we can do better to provide a fun and competitive environment while still developing the skill youth need to enhance performance in their sport.  The Composite Youth Development Model states that we should train all fitness attributes, which include heath fitness attributes such as muscle strength, muscle endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and body composition as well as skill fitness that includes agility, balance, coordination, power, and speed.  We can incorporate games into training sessions that include these fitness attributes.  One key factor in designing appropriate training sessions is to consider the age of the participant to do games that are age appropriate. For example, young children should participate in training where the focus is on skill acquisition. Youth should focus on mastering movement skills progressing sessions into more challenging games when ready. Young adults or teenagers should focus on sports specific physical attributes since specialization is a key component at this age. 

Games are played in the form of tactical games or developmental games. Tactical games are games such as invasion games, net and wall games, striking and fielding games or target games. Developmental games include pursuit games, cooperation games, for fundamental movement games. The key is that the participants have fun while doing them. Here is a chart I found in the article “Games to Support Physical Literacy and Long Term Athletic Development” that outlines the difference between games and drills.

1.       Games vs Drills
2.       Dynamic vs Static
3.       Free movement vs lines
4.       Unstructured vs regimented
5.       Decision making vs no decision making
6.       Fun vs boring

I am not contending that all training sessions should be game oriented as an important component in most training sessions is skill mastery. Often such skills take time to develop and are most effectively trained in drill form. However, a balance of skill mastery and games will likely keep the fun in sport. If we wish to keep kids involved in sport and promote lifelong health, it is vital that we keep the fun in the game.

Focus and Flow

If only we could perform at our peak every day, every game, in everything we do. However, life happens and we must deal with many stressors that affect the way we perform. We have stressors that distract us and create chaos in our lives. In life, bad things happen that create anxiety, we have poor relationships, on the field pressures, school exams, fear of failure, fear of making mistakes, a need to impress someone. How do athletes find a way to overcome such obstacles, to put on their game face on and stay focused on the task at hand? 

I am coaching a few teams in which the kids are very distracted. As a result, our performance is inconsistent. I started asking myself, what do I need to do to create more focus? I believe we can go from average to really good with some strategies to get us dialed in; to get our minds right. 

I picked up a book called The Mindful Athlete, Secrets to Pure Performance, by George Mumford. The goal in any performance is to play “in the zone”. To play in such a way that as to be in the present with no distractions. To just be. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says “flow (being in the zone), occurs when both challenges and skill are high and equal to each other.”  He says, “flow is the act of being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away, time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and your using your skills to the utmost”.  Bill Russell, former NBA MVP describes the zone experience “every so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it became more than a physical or even mental game, and would become magical…” (the rest of the quote can be found in the book Mindful Athlete)

When one is in the zone these things are present: (taken out of the book as well)

1.     Focused on the present
2.     Time slowed down
3.     Intuit how next play would go without thinking about it
4.     Winning was not on the mind, enjoy the journey
5.     Everything/everyone connected in an energetic/unified way
6.     Experience transcended physical/mental; consciousness expanded and self went away.
7.     Increased performance

George Mumford states that “our monkey brain”, all the distractions and thoughts bouncing around in our heads prevent us from experiencing the flow or the zone. How do we make calm out of the storm? He contends that there is a space where calmness can exist in the chaos. He calls this “the eye of the hurricane” where the athlete who can quiet the storm can achieve optimal performance. Joseph Campbell says “performing properly” when we have not found the center within, we react to stimulus from outside with our monkey mind rather than responding to it from a quiet space that we can create between stimulus and response, thus “tension comes”. We don’t perform well. We get so swept up in what’s happening around us, notably all the reactive chatter in our minds, in our emotions, and in our bodies, that we lose touch with the present moment and disconnect from the quiet place within”..

Mumford writes about this calm place being the space between stimulus and response. The stimulus can be fear, anxiety, anger that comes from things that agitate us. For example, we can become angry by a poor call from an official. The anger now takes up space in our mind. It distracts us from playing our best. Mumford has some ideas of how to manage or learn to manage the anger, to let it go in space between stimulus and response. It seems easy, however, some of the habits or reactions to certain things have been learned and imprinted in us. In the book, Mumford provides strategies, for example, meditation, to learn to train the mind to get to this calm state of mind. I suggest you read this book to dive into this topic more deeply.  This is just a short synopsis of the book The Mindful Athlete, Secrets to Pure Performance.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Training for Peak Performance

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition! Is doing more always better? My question as a coach is…how do we keep the passion in our sport and prevent burnout at the older ages? How can we train kids the most efficiently and effectively without overtraining our kids’ bodies as well as their minds? The Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model is worth considering if you would like more in depth information on this topic. Maybe you have heard that it takes 10,000 hours to become world class in a field (Malcolm Gladwell). When I hear this I automatically think I need to do more. Perhaps an athlete will begin to believe they need more hours on the field.  They need more touches, need to go to more practices, play in more games, play on more teams, to invest more money to become great. I think this picture becomes skewed as often more, more, more leads to burnout and high dropout rates. So, what is the answer? Hopefully in reading this article the picture will be a bit clearer.

Malcolm Gladwell not only professes that it takes 10,000 hours to be great in your field but that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” makes one world class in their field. Deliberate practice is a repetitive, concentrated practice. Daniel Coyle author of Talent Code writes about deep practice. Deep practice is quality not quantity as more is not always better. Therefore, if we want to get better at a pattern or movement we must do it correctly to produce the best results. For example, let’s say a soccer player wants to improve his/her finishing abilities. They go out and hit 100 shots on each foot each day. After a couple of weeks, they come home with a pulled hip flexor muscle. Was more better?  Yes, they are getting 200 shots (repetition, repetition, repetition) but are they paying attention to details and proper technique with each shot? How affective was that training? Would it have been better to take 30 shots with great technique or just hit 200 shots?

It is very important to perform quality movements. Around each neuron in our body is a substance called myelin. With every movement pattern we perform, myelin wraps around our nerves. This sort of imprints the pattern or movement so we don’t have to think every time we do it. This happens with the millions of things we do each day. If our patterns are bad (poor technique) we will develop bad patterns. If our patterns are good, we will develop good patterns.  One way to look at this is; our bodies do what we train it to do. If we train slow we will be slow, if we train fast we will be fast. If we train quality movement, we will have quality movement. So yes, some of training is clearly about repetition but what is the quality of the repetition?

Some believe that talent is about natural God given talent. However, if the above is true, good quality patterns can be learned with proper practice. Here are some tips on how one can learn good quality Deep Practice.   

            Chunk it!  When you perform a skill just do it… Find out what is not working. Take that                small part of the movement and slow it down. Then speed it up. Do it correctly. Do it wrong.

            Repeat it!  Repetition demands your full attention

            Feel it!  Explain how it feels both right and wrong. This helps you self-correct. You must have complete awareness.

If this practice is difficult because you cannot figure out where the weakness is, hire a private coach for a few lessons. Once aware of the area that needs attention follow the above guidelines. Repetition is so important in the learning process however; the quality of the repetition is what makes one great. How great do you want to be?

Nutrient Timing

Nutrient timing refers to how we plan our macro-nutrient (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) intake in order to improve health, improve body composition, to improve athletic performance, and/or to enhance recovery. The body can handle different kinds of food at different times. We can manipulate what and when we eat based on how the body will best digest and absorb the nutrients. It’s important to note that every body is different and tolerates different foods differently. I will give you some ideas as to what may work for your body however, if your body does not respond be sure to make adaptations that work for you. I will include general guidelines however if you do not see results you should consult a dietician or nutritionist to design a program for your specific needs.

How much we eat is an important aspect of changing body composition. For example, to maintain our weight we must burn as many calories as we consume. To lose weight we must eat less then we burn and to gain weight we must eat more then we burn. Your personal goals will influence how much you eat. Are you wanting to maintain your lean body composition or, are you an athlete that needs to consume more calories to keep up with energy demands? If you are a recreational exerciser nutrient timing may not be something you want to spend your energy thinking about. If you want to make changes in your body composition these tips may help you.

Carbohydrates are a macro-nutrient that I always hear people talking about. Carbohydrates seem to be a curse as so many of us want to eliminate them from our nutrition. Perhaps because we have heard they make us fat or we heard that a low or no carb diet will help us lose weight. Carbohydrates are our fuel source so it is not a good idea to eliminate them from our nutrition plan however we can use them more efficiently. We have carbohydrates that are higher in fiber and that we burn more slowly. These are beans/legumes and vegetables. These can be eaten anytime and help us control blood sugar levels. We also have simple sugars like candy, soda pop and foods that don’t give us any nutritional value. These carbohydrates can eventually have adverse effects on the body.

When is the best time to eat carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are best eaten during or after a workout. Especially a workout that has an increase in intensity such as weight lifting, sprinting etc. This is when our glycogen stores (carbs in their usable form) have been tapped out and we need more carbs in our body to replace what we used up. If one is sedentary or has not had a chance to exercise for the day eating an abundance of carbs is not recommended. The excess amount that you eat and that is stored will turn to fat instead. If you decide to go the simple sugar route and have a need for a sweet treat, eat it after a workout. Some other good choices that are best to eat after exercise are quinoa, sprouted grain breads, potatoes, yams,squash, oats, cereals etc. It is also interesting to note that different body types use carbs differently. Generally, a tall skinny person can tolerate starchy carbs better than a short stocky body type. Remember, the best time to eat starchy carbs is within a couple hours of your exercise routine.

Proteins and fats should be eaten at each meal. Proteins are lean meats, chicken, turkey, bison, venison. Fish sources like tuna, salmon, cod or orange roughy are good choices. Eggs, cottage cheese, cheese, or Greek yogurt, beans, peas, legumes, tofu etc. are great choices as well. Good fats are avocado, olive oil, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, pecans, pistachios and olives. Fish oil, safflower oil, sunflower seeds, peanuts, canola oil, walnuts and flax seed are great choices. Animal fats such as eggs, cheese and butter in addition to coconut oil and palm oil are all good sources of fats. Again these should be eaten at each meal throughout the day.

Food is the Body's Fuel

Nutrition is not only about the food we eat but it's about what our body does with the food we consume. I've been taking a nutrition certification course this summer that has been extremely informative and eye opening. So I thought I would write to you about some of the things that have been ah-hah moments for me. I've been personal training for a number of years now. I have studied about the basics of nutrition. I knew about enough to be able to give some advice but was by no means an expert. When it comes to nutrition and knowing what are healthy choices and what are not, I think many of us know what we should be eating however we continue following our same patterns. We then complain about our lack of energy and/ or our forever growing bulge around the middle section. Sometimes hearing something from another angle can make a big impact on our actions. Often when we know the why, what we learn makes sense, it becomes easier to apply. Studying for my precision nutrition certification has done that for me. To know the why behind what the experts tell us has made so much sense. I will share with you some of the things I've learned that have changed the choices I've made.

First of all, what we eat is not merely food. It's fuel! Food has energy and the energy in the food is broken down (this is an understatement since many chemical reactions take place to break down our food) and used for energy in our body. There is no energy that is lost or gained its just in a sense converted into a usable form. If the energy that comes in (you eat) equals the energy you expend (you use) you will maintain your weight and hopefully a healthy energetic body. However, if you eat more then you expend or expend more then you eat health issues, lack of energy and a host of other things can affect your energy levels. Thinking of food as our fuel source and not just eating what taste good (although this is great too) has new meaning.

The choices of what we eat is important. For instance, our muscle cells, our liver cells, all of the cells in our body (in a simplified version) have a membrane around them and have what we will call channels that run through them. Once food is broken down (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) these nutrients in their smallest form need to be transported through these channels to get inside our cells to be converted to energy. If we eat too much saturated fat, we can clog these pathways. If we eat more fats that are not so firm, we will have a much more pliable channel to get through.

Another example of how food choices are important is this. Carbohydrates are sugars. An example of a simple carbohydrates is table sugar. A complex carbohydrate is maybe an apple or a vegetable. Our body does not know a donut from an apple. It just knows that it has to break down the sugar into its smallest form of glucose. However, the donut does not have the nutrients our body needs to effectively transport the sugar into the cells. We use the vitamins from the apple to help hormones transport things through the cells. Plus, the apple has other qualities that help our bodies function optimally. A donut does not offer much in the way of nutrition. Just extra calories.

The choices in foods we eat does make a difference. We want to choose foods with the most nutrient dense qualities. Choices that offer the most nutrients with the least number of calories are ideal. Most of these would be whole foods with the least number of ingredients that you recognize. Fresh fruits and veggies are nutrient dense foods. Nuts and seeds, whole grain foods and beans are great nutrient dense foods. Donuts, candy, soda pop offer you calories without any nutritional value. Ideally we want to give ourselves fuel that promotes peak performance, gives us energy and keeps us healthy. What do you want?  What will you choose? You have control over your choices.

MyoReflex Roller

A couple of years back I was playing soccer and tore a calf muscle (gastrocnemius). I have played soccer for more years then you can imagine and it was the first muscle injury I had experienced. It was the first time I had ever been on crutches. I was talking to a friend about my injury and he referred me to a physical therapist who specializes in calf injuries. That was the beginning of my rehabilitation journey in addition to an invaluable education on how to take care of my muscles to prevent further injury. My physical therapist Scott Hadley of the Hadley Clinic in Grand Rapids has been such a valuable person in my rehab and in my education. Scott has designed a rolling device called the MyoReflex Roller that has changed how I roll my muscles as well as it has had a positive impact on my rehabilitation.

I have written an article on the importance of foam rolling in the past. It is important to loosen the fascia around our muscles. Foam rolling is a useful tool in both rehabilitation and injury prevention. I recently went to a functional training seminar in Chicago for continuing education for my Sports Conditioning Certification. A speed and agility specialist named Lee Taft was a speaker at the seminar. He uses the foam roller as a tool for warming up his athletes. Before they begin any running activity they foam roll. He says in his book that “the purpose of rolling is to help prepare the superficial layers of the soft tissue (fascia) and to reduce the tension in the musculo-tendinous unit”.  He also says that “trigger points or knots develop deep in the myofascia. These areas of local spasm disrupt normal movement of muscles and joints. In addition, delay in muscle activation diminish local blood flow and lead to increased risk of injury.” There must be good in using rollers as a warm up device because when I went to a soccer clinic at Notre Dame each player had his own foam roller to use in their warm up. 

My physical therapist Scott Hadley gives his top 4 reasons to roll.

4 Reasons to Roll Your Muscles
Scott Hadley PhD, DP
“I am frequently asked the question, “Why roll my muscles?” There are several good reasons, but here are my top four:

1.       A stiff muscle is a painful muscle. The pain may be in the stiff muscle, referred to a near-by joint, in the muscle’s tendon, or just a general sense of discomfort. Rolling the muscle loosens the connective tissue, improves the blood flow, flushes out lactic acid, and releases the tension of the muscle. The result is less muscular pain. And since most pain is muscular, this is a good thing!

2.       A stiff muscle is a weak muscle. Rolling properly restores muscle strength. How? One way the nervous system controls muscle contraction is through stretch reflexes. Stretch reflexes control up to 60% of a muscle’s recruitment. When the muscle becomes stiff, the stretch reflexes become inhibited, and the muscle loses much of its ability to contract. This can lead to a loss of proper joint control, poor athletic performance, and injury.

3.       A stiff muscle causes other muscles to become weak. Stretch reflexes coming from one muscle are used to activate other muscles at different joints. When a muscle stiffens, the other muscles controlled by that muscle become neurologically inhibited resulting in weakness. For example, a stiff soleus in the calf can cause the hip extensors to lose up to 75% of their strength.

4.       Learning to roll muscles properly and with the right tools empowers you, giving you control of your pain and discomfort. The knowledge of proper rolling technique creates a sense of good mental health and well-being. You don’t need to feel dependent on your Physical Therapist, your Massage Therapist, or your Chiropractor if you know how to take care of your own body.”


I began to question this rolling thing because if these professionals are rolling as a warm up, if they believe so strongly in the benefits, and I personally have had great results should this be something we should be doing to help prevent injury?  What can we do to help our athletes be more prepared to compete at the highest level possible? My U16 boys’ team has all purchased on of the MyoReflex Rollers and we use them as part of our warm up. Each of my kids has a MyoReflex Roller of their own that they keep in their soccer bags. These particular rollers are super because; 1. they fit right in their bags 2. they penetrate much deeper into the muscle then the foam rollers. For muscles that are denser, and for tightness that is deep in the muscle these rollers are amazing. 

If you have any questions about the MyoReflex Roller you can visit If you would like to try one, if you see me on the field somewhere, just ask as I usually have one in my car. If you would like to purchase one, I may have one in my car for purchase or I can get you one. Or you can buy them online on the website mentioned. The purchase price is $45 and let me tell you well worth the money. Also on the website is an ebook that demonstrates how to use them. 


Dianne Strawser
Mary Free Bed YMCA, Personal trainer
PASS FC, Soccer Coach, USSF C license



Changing Our Mindset

I have been studying for a Nutrition Certification through Precision Nutrition. I have learned some really cool things so far and I have just begun the process. A couple things I have been reading about are interesting but I bet most of you already know these things. Energy balance happens when we consume the same amount of calories we burn. On the other hand, if we burn more calories than we consume we lose weight. If we consume more then we burn we gain weight.  Seems like most know this fact. In addition, I have learned about nutrient density. When we eat for good health we eat more foods that have the most nutrients, the foods that have the vitamins and minerals that feed our cells with what we need to perform optimally. For example, we can eat two foods that are the same size and same calories. We can eat an apple or a donut (I will be honest I did not investigate if these two are the same in calories but for the sake of the example pretend they are). An apple can provide you with the vitamins and minerals your body needs and craves. The donut provides unhealthy fats and sugars that your mind maybe craves but your body cannot use. 

Perhaps you have read such facts in diet books, nutrition books or magazines, exercise books or even information you have gotten from coaches. All this knowledge is really great stuff but how do we take what we have learned and apply it? We have established routines, behaviors and patterns over the years that have determined who we are. Some behaviors have been ingrained in our beings and we just cannot change. Some behaviors are addictions such as food, alcohol or shopping to name a few. We perform behaviors we know are not in the best interest of our physical or mental health but just cannot seem to change them. For example, perhaps you are an avid soda drinker. You drink several sodas per day. You know you’re taking in an extraordinary amount of sugar every day which is contributing to the extra pounds you have put on the last year or so. You know this habit is not healthy but you just can’t stop drinking so many sodas. What do you do? After all, you have tried a million different strategies that have not worked. What now?

To change behavior, it is necessary to change your mindset. It is important to ask yourself, is changing your habit just another good idea?  Are you TRULY committed to change? If you are not committed and not open to change, don’t even try. If you are committed here are a few ideas that may help you change your mindset. If you are committed to change pick one thing to change. For example, regarding the soda example, limit yourself to one soda a day with lunch. Choose one goal with the most impact. Did you know that if you choose one goal your percentage of achieving that goal is greater? If you try to accomplish three or four goals the percentage of you achieving them goes down significantly with each additional goal you try to accomplish. Visualize the outcome you a hoping for. Keep a picture of success in the forefront of your mind. How do you picture yourself having accomplished your goal? A positive mindset is necessary for a positive outcome.  Be sure to find a buddy to hold you accountable as well. Be sure you create a social network that supports your goal and can provide you the encouragement you need to make your goal a reality. When old patterns or behaviors reappear you will have a social network to see you through. Celebrate the victories. Whether big or small, victories are worth celebrating. Everyone needs a ‘great job,’ or a pat on the back for doing something we are proud of. Be your number one fan. Give yourself a big hug, a high five or whatever it is that keeps you moving in a positive direction. You are worth it.

These tips can be applied to a number of areas. You may want to be a better soccer player, master a certain skill, be more coachable, be a better parent on the sidelines, be a better teammate. We all have areas we need to improve. I hope these tips will help you to take the first steps in achieving whatever it is you want to master. Good luck!!!!