Given my career path, I thought it would be worthwhile to hear a more in-depth perspective on advice for high school athletes with regards to their development as an athlete. The advent of the social media era makes it incredibly easy to get quick snapshots of what pros are doing and how universities train their athletes and with the growing amounts of information comes an increasing inability to discern between what is actually going to help you become better versus what is a waste of time. An important caveat is that just because your favorite pro athlete is doing it, DOES NOT mean it works! Elite athletes are often successful IN SPITE of what they do; not because of it. With that, let’s jump in.
Fixate on speed
Speed is what separates good athletes from great ones. Straight line speed, speed in and out of breaks, speed in processing the opposition, determining the appropriate movement solution and executing it faster than your opponent.
Developing straight line speed takes time. If you want to get faster, you have to run fast, then rest a LONG time. You cannot run fast when you are tired, so if a “speed” session feels like conditioning, guess what? It is not a speed session.
Developing speed in and out of breaks, or agility, is often misconstrued. Agility is the result of what is called perception-action coupling, meaning that you must first process the environment, select an appropriate response (perception), and then carry out the physical response (action), while continuing to work through that loop as your opponent does the same thing and changes the environment over and over again.
There are plenty of examples of athletes who don’t have the most impressive physical skill sets, but make up for it because their perceptive abilities are more efficient in finding the optimal solution faster than their opponents, so developing your perceptive tools in addition to your ability to stop and start are of critical importance if you want to develop agility. If a coach has you stepping around cones, or in ladders or octagon shapes, or only doing pro shuttles for your “agility”, you are missing out. Very simply, play your sport or play games; do 1v1 mirroring drills, small box “scoring” drills, even playing sharks and minnows puts you in a position to have to perceive an environment and move in response to it to succeed.
Processing speed, in addition to how it is outlined above, comes from understanding how to watch film and understand opponent tendencies. The quicker you know what an opponent is going to do, the easier it becomes to select and carry out an appropriate response. Learn how to watch film, digest scouting reports, and carry it over to practices at full speed. Practicing above game speed and means you are prepared above game speed and the game accordingly “slows down”, enabling you to make better decisions and carry out more appropriate physical actions, leading to success.
Don’t rush the weightlifting process Consider your body as a bank account. You have a limited amount of funds to spend on improving physical qualities and dealing with life stressors (academic, social etc…). Putting aside the life stressors, if you are going to spend funds developing physical qualities, which ones are most important to spend on?
Hopefully from the above point, you’ve settled on your movement qualities, namely speed, agility, and playing your sport. I promise you, strength is incredibly easy to develop; you will not have to do much in high school to get bigger and stronger. Coaches recruit speed; if you are blowing by opponents, breaking ankles and scoring frequently as a result, you will get recruited. A coach is not going to pass on you because your bench press sucks, because they have a strength coach back at their school that will take care of that. Spend your funds accordingly on getting fast, agile, and playing your sport, and don’t overdo the lifting.
Hone your lifestyle habits
Sleep is far and away the most potent supplement you can take, and it is free. Develop a sleep routine that makes your sleep higher quality and aim for 8-10 hours per night (google sleep routines for useful tips; the most significant one I will leave you with here is PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN AN HOUR BEFORE BED).
Learn how to eat well most of the time! We stress an 80/20 principle with our athletes, meaning 80% of your meals should be healthy, then there’s 5-6 meals where you can enjoy yourself more. Big nutritional pillars to hit include eating breakfast every day, hydrating enough to have clear urine throughout the day, having protein at every meal/snack, 5-6 servings of fruits/vegetables daily, and fueling before and after your workouts with good carbohydrate sources.
Lastly, learn how to manage your stress well. Life only gets more stressful as you grow older, figure out what helps you cope, whether it is making lists to keep your tasks in order, studying proactively, journaling, a hobby, or spending time with certain people. Anytime your body is in a stressed state, you are activating pathways in your body that detract from performance. The more you can keep these pathways reserved for actually stressful situations (playing sports), the better you will perform. Again, your body has limited funds for coping with stressors. If you spend all of it stressing on events that are within your control to manage, you are detracting from your ability to perform your best in the classroom or on the field.
Enjoy the ride
It doesn’t get much better than high school sports. You’ve grown up playing with these people your whole life, now you’re doing it under the Friday night lights you’ve been watching previous teams under since you were young. Recruiting is only as stressful as you let it be; if you develop yourself in the way I’ve outlined above, perform your best in games, and handle business in the classroom, you’ve done what you can to maximize your opportunities to play at the next level- the rest is out of your control, so there is no use worrying about it.
There truly is a school for everybody, so slow down, look around, be in the moments of gamedays, times in the locker room, the practices and the camp shenanigans, because those will eventually be the things you look back on and remember fondly.
Scott Kuehn, M.S., CSCS, SCCC
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