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Peak Athletic Performance: A Training Plan Can Help

Whether your child plays soccer, basketball, swims, runs, or races her bike, an individualized, personal training program can help her perform at her best and achieve peak athletic performance. 

Needed by every athlete

Every athlete can benefit from a training plan, regardless of their level of ability or goals.  Whether your child plays an individual or team sport, has multiple coaches or no coach at all, she will achieve more with a training plan.

Why a training plan? Think of it this way: you wouldn't get into your car to drive across the country to a specific location without looking at a map or taking along a GPS.  Chances are you wouldn't end up where you wanted to if you were simply pointing the car in the general direction of where you wanted to go and followed your nose; if you did that, you would, more than likely, end up in the middle of nowhere! The same is true in sports: your young athlete is less likely to reach her goal if she's practicing for her sport without a plan. 

Why a training plan for team sports? Isn't it up to the coach to come up with the training and practice schedule for the team?  Well, the fact is that while team practices will likely focus on building the skills of the athletes on the team in a general way,  a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter approach to training may not focus enough on your child's particular areas of weakness, in their skills, flexibility, strength, or fitness; areas in which she needs to work to achieve peak athletic performance.  This is where a supplemental training can help. Having a plan will allow your child to build in extra time in his day to practice specific things he needs to work on without becoming over fatigued.

One example of how such supplemental training can help: my husband, who is a strength and conditioning coach, recently wrote a strength training program for a teenage gymnast.  The training she does with her team five days a week is very structured and intense, but doesn't specifically focus on building strength, so she looked outside the program to address that component.  When she added two strength workouts a week with my husband, she saw a huge improvement in her gymnastics performance.

What, when and why

A training plan is particularly valuable when your child has multiple coaches, or plays on more than one team or more than one sport at a time,  The different workouts prescribed by the different coaches all need to work in harmony. A training plan will help prevent your child from over training (and thus running increased risk of suffering an overuse injury), becoming too tired to perform at their best, or suffering a burn out that leads them to quit the sport altogether.

A good training plan:

  • Is in writing and covers entire day.  To get the most out of her training your child needs a written training program that covers her entire day, and should spell out what exercises, drills and/or skills the athlete completes on a given day (be sure to build in rest periods!). If it isn't written down and referred to daily it won't be very effective. As an Olympic cyclist, my day revolved around the workouts on my training schedule; I planned the rest of my life around it. Sit down with your child, and possibly her coach or coaches, and come up with a daily training plan. Write it out on a blank calendar or on a plain paper with the days of the month listed. For each day write in the specifics of each workout, including which days she will rest.
  • Teaches discipline.  Having a plan teaches and requires discipline, and will encourage your child to work at the prescribed intensity versus simply practicing the way she feels on a given day. It will prevent her from falling into a rut, practicing only the skills she likes, and will force her to build up areas in which she is weakness and target those areas she is less comfortable with.
  • Is developed before or after the season, not during: In the heat of a season it is difficult to step back and look at the big picture. It's easy for players and coaches to get caught up in the daily grind and fail to analyze strengths, weaknesses and gaps in training. These things are better analyzed ahead of time, when your child is reflecting on the previous season and setting goals for the next.
  • Actively involves the athlete in the planning process: Your child should never be a passive participant in her training. It is important for her to understand the purpose of her specific workouts and drills. She'll be more willing to work hard if she understands why she does certain things. A plan will help your child understand all of the components of her game and as she learns more about herself and her sport she will gain important insight into what may be missing in her training.
  • Is flexible: A training plan should never be set in stone: changes will need to be made to your child's plan as the season progresses, but while adjustments are made the focus of the season remains the same. A written training plan will help her remain focused on her ultimate goal.

Keeping a journal: a good habit to keep

When I was training, I was always amazed how quickly I forgot what day I did which workout and how I felt. Getting in the habit of recording his training every day will help him get an accurate picture of the work he did and when he did it. If he waits and tries to write down the whole week at once he is likely to miss some important details.

For more on training journals, click here.

Erin Mirabella is a two-time Olympic track cyclist, mother of two, and children's book author.  The first two books in her series, Barnsville Sports Squad, Shawn Sheep The Soccer Star and Gracie Goat's Big Bike Raceare available online at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, borders.com, velogear.com, at the Olympic Training Centers and select stores. For more information visit www.erinmirabella.com.

Posted October 7, 2011



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