Work ‘m Hard but Treat them with Respect – Training Adolescent Athletes

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As a fitness professional for over 25 years, a personal trainer for over 20 years, and a high school coach for the last six years, I believe in working athletes to their potential.  In these last six years, I have run the gamut in training/coaching techniques.  Training 80+ adolescents at one time is not like anything I had done previously in my fitness career.  I had taught aerobics, spinning, boxing and other classes.  I had taught workshops to hundreds of adults.  I found that working with 80 people at one time, high schoolers, and athletes was a recipe with its unique set of challenges.

Crew is a very demanding sport.  It is one of the only sports that use both energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic) to their maximum potential in each race.  In addition, it is one of the few sports that also requires the use of the largest muscle groups in the upper AND lower body to be worked to failure in each race.  Think of it as 4-7 minutes worth of hell that includes an initial sprint, a short visit to the aerobic system – but at just below your AT – before you go back to your last sprint.  So, I have to train both energy systems to their highest output, put lean mass on their upper and lower bodies, and create explosiveness – all in 12 weeks before they go on the water.  As a final piece of the puzzle, Crew is one of the few sports that you can walk on – and never have participated in ANY sport before in your life.  Most other sports in high schools now require that you have previous experience as an athlete.  There is Little League for baseball, Pee Wee Football for football, and clubs for volleyball, soccer, field hockey, etc.

I have a lot to do in a very short period of time.  It is a wonderful challenge – and most rewarding!  I watch as nerds become athletes.  I watch as boys and girls grow over four years to become AMAZING athletes and AMAZING people!  I feel blessed as I watch, push and train these fine young souls.  But, how to accomplish our goals?? At first I was hard lined.  No softness found here.  I would yell, scream, taunt, challenge, and push.  My fear was: how do I keep all of these kids in line and prevent injury?  Safety is sooo important.  As the years started to go by, I learned when I could soften my edges.  I learned how to respectfully treat the boys differently from the girls – yet still pushing each to their maximum.  I also started doing more one-on-one work behind the scenes with the athletes – before, during and after practice.  Finally, two years ago, I started something called “Story Time”.  The kids and I both LOVE story time. 

Story time is the answer to their prayers in a 1.5 hour conditioning workout.  Story time only comes during especially gruelling workouts – where I have pushed them mentally and physically to their wall.  As I see the athletes begin to break down emotionally, I know it’s time to call them in for a story.  It’s not just a water break.  It’s not true down time.  This is a time where I show them how much I respect them.  How much I honor their intelligence.  How much I appreciate their discipline and hard work.  These kids deserve to know and understand why someone is being called out in a workout – or why they are doing what they are doing.  They deserve to know what muscle groups they are working.  They deserve to know why we are working their muscles THIS particular way.  They deserve to know that I am not there to be their best friend – and I expect them to not like me.  I am pushing them harder than their parents, harder than their other coaches, this is my job – to know exactly how hard I can push them without injuring them.  I don’t listen to their whining, moaning or complaining.  I push them beyond their tears.  If they are complaining about me at home, I am doing my job. 

Story time gives them the “why’s” that come with coaching.  Why is it important to not let another team member fail?  Why is it important to be aware of your team mates?  Why is it important to work the muscle groups you are working?  Why am I choosing these particular strength exercises in the weight room?  They deserve to know that a Strong Mind is what CREATES a Stong Body – not the other way around.  They deserve to understand that they have a Super Ego that promotes negative self-talk.  The Super Ego is that voice that tells them to quit – it’s just too hard – it hurts too much.  They deserve to know how to combat their Super Ego – and WHY it exists in the first place.  We talk about good versus bad pain.  We talk about how their energy systems work.  We talk about giving up versus pushing through.  We talk about team values, leadership qualities, good nutrition and hydration.  Story time is short and sweet (one lesson for each story time).  It serves a purpose.  It shows them that I am working them hard – and I treat them with respect.

So, all the high school coaches out there.  Work em, push em, teach them the tough lessons – but do it with respect.  These kids are bright.  They are strong.  They struggle with many of the same issues that we struggle with – perfection, overdoing, not feeling good enough, eating disorders, depression, intestinal disorders, you name it!  Make them use their brain as well as their body.  Let them in on our coaching “secrets”…  We demand respect and they deserve respect.

Love to  you