Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kids, Kettlebells, and Athletic Development by Jeff O'Connor

When training young athletes there is always a problem of “fitting it all in”. Most of the middle and high school (off season) programs in my area have weight room time and footwork/running/jumping time, usually on separate days. Most of the coaches in charge of these programs are well intentioned, but unfortunately have very little knowledge on teaching basic movement, strength and athletic development skills. Even those that do know what and how to teach still face the problem of limited time.

Something that I have consistently seen is that during high school a kid’s biomechanical indicators and injuries increase together. This tends to coincide
with a decrease in performance. It’s not necessarily something that happens 100%
of the time. But is an alarming trend I’ve observed. There is so much focus on 40
times, vertical leap, bench, etc. that testing has become a sport of its’ own. We spend too much time preparing to pass the test, and not enough learning the subject. It frustrates me to see the amount of concern there is on how much a kid squats rather than whether or not he or she can squat properly. Telling a kid to squat more and squat lower without teaching them how is like telling them to solve an algebra
problem before they’ve learned to add and subtract.

There is too much emphasis on weight and reps and not enough on mechanics. Too much time is spent teaching how to generate force without ever teaching how to absorb it. When do we see most injuries occur, when someone takes off running, or when they stop and change direction? How does a kid get better at their sport? Usually
they get better by playing it, not by sitting on the bench because of a preventable, non contact injury.

Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that the kids I train don’t
perform barbell lifts. They do, and they lift heavy and hard. But not just for the sake of lifting heavy and hard. It’s done as a part of their overall athletic development, not just because it’s a “weight day”.

So, how do we fit it all in? We probably can’t, but we can consistently try to work
on all aspects of athletic development. Strength is an important part, but it is not
everything. Ultimately, it’s coordination that will determine an athlete’s performance. From my own standpoint as a trainer the reason I have kids squat is to reduce injuries and play better. I’m far more concerned with that than actual poundage because in my experience the guy with the highest lifts is seldom the best player.

You may have seen this coming, but my answer to this problem is the kettlebell and the RKC hardstyle training method. Why, because it is quite simply the best teacher of body mechanics and the best tool for filling in the gaps left by most
strength and conditioning programs.

Also, the portability and diversity of the kettlebell make it perfect for
putting strength and athletic skills together in the same training

The question always comes up, “When do you start kids with kettlebells and where
do they fit into a program?” The answer is when the kid is ready and the right teacher is available. It is not when a kettlebell is handy. Keep in mind we’re talking about kids here. Whether it’s a second grader or a high school All-State player they are not elite athletes and cannot be trained as such. We have to keep their ability to focus consistently in mind. Semi-sumo deadlifts with a kettlebell are appropriate for almost any age. Bent press and snatches are not.
At this level we need to focus on the development of skills and preparation for
the next level of play. Obviously different ages, skill levels and what that next level of play may be will determine the direction and intensity of training.

Another answer to the “when” question is, “as soon as possible”. By this statement,
I don’t mean that swings are a good thing to start a 5 year old with. The reason I
want an athlete to train swings is that a properly performed, hardstyle swing will do
more for strength, endurance, and movement efficiency than almost everything
else put together. The Turkish get-up will handle most of the rest. Please take note
that a “properly performed hardstyle swing” is not the same as mindlessly letting
a kettlebell go back and forth between the legs. Don’t teach it if you don’t understand it. If you’re not an RKC or at least trained by one, you probably don’t. I didn’t, and I’d done thousands of what I thought were
swings before attending the RKC.

Athleticism is a combination of multiple skills, of which strength is one very
important component. The goal of this article is to help you integrate movement
(not sport) specific strength training into an athletic skill set sequence. It begins with seemingly different drills in a static setting that are gradually “layered” into a game speed training complex. Depending on the
age, physical and mental development of the athlete this progression could take five
sessions or five years. The sequence would be very much the same for a division 1
athlete as it would be for an eight year old. It just takes longer for the eight year old. The most important thing to remember when training kids is that they’re not just short adults. Developmentally two thirteen year olds can be light years apart. Let them advance at their pace not yours.

If you want to read the rest of this article with skills and movement drills go to:

If you are interested in learning more about using kettlebells in the Nashville, TN area, email David Whitley, Senior RKC at irontamerdave@hotmail.com or visit www.irontamer.com. To learn more about Kettlebell training in the Talala, Oklahoma area email Jeff O'Connor at jeffoconnor@totelcsi.com

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