On any given day, I interact with and coach a number of impressionable young athletes. Not surprisingly, many visit the weight room to gain a competitive advantage. Also not surprisingly, many tend to make mistakes with their athletic careers and in the weight room.
Thinking That Talent Trumps Hard Work
Some inspirational words that I stole from the Internet: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
I can't tell you how many athletes think that talent alone will take them to the next level. Some think just because they threw a few no-hitters in Little League or made the varsity basketball team as a freshman that they're entitled to playing time or that they don't have to put in the work to get better.
Sooner rather than later, this lackadaisical attitude and poor work ethic catches up with them, and before they know it, they're riding the bench and complaining that "coach hates them or doesn't know what he's doing."
Funny how it's always the coach that's the issue, right?
To put it frankly, that's crap.
The fact of the matter is: you have no one to blame but yourself, and if you're not willing to work—and work hard—quit making excuses.
This may entail any number of things. Like making extra time to hit the gym "x" times per week rather than wasting time playing Grand Theft Auto (ask Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky how much time they spent playing video games), or going to additional study halls or working with a tutor to ensure the grades you need to stay eligible to play—or simply getting up earlier to eat a good breakfast.
At the end of the day, there's going to be some semblance of give-and-take and sacrifices that have to be made in order to be successful. Talent won't always be the answer.
Playing One Sport Too Early
Conversely, athletes who acknowledge that "talent isn't the only answer" could be shooting themselves in the foot.
Yes, hard work is to be commended, but over the past decade there's been a growing trend in youth athletics to specialize in one sport. Although many factors come into play, nothing epitomizes this trend more than the 10,000 hours rule, a theory popularized by Malcolm Gladwell and Geoff Colvin in their books, Outliers and Talent is Overrated, which suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to master a specific task.
Unfortunately, many athletes (and by extension, their parents) have taken this to mean that they should focus solely on one sport. It's absolutely one of the worst things they could possibly do.
Using baseball as an example, it's not uncommon for a 14- or 15-year-old pitcher to walk into my facility complaining of chronic shoulder or elbow pain. Then I discover that he hasn't put the baseball down in over a year, during which he accumulated an absurd number of innings pitched. In truth, this is the quickest way to burn out and suffer an overuse injury.
So one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to play a variety of sports.
Sure, there comes a point where specialization enters the picture, but this typically shouldn't even be considered until age 16 or 17, when the body is more mature. By then it should be apparent that an athlete has a proclivity toward a particular sport.
Ignoring Proper Progressions
Bringing the discussion to the weight room, I find many young athletes fail to understand that strength is the basis for everything. I covered this point in a previous article for STACK. The gist of it is that you can't have agility, speed, power and endurance without first having a base of strength.
A stronger athlete will almost always be able to run faster, jump farther and change direction more quickly.
In addition, it's important for young athletes to recognize that the principle of progression applies in the weight room. We wouldn't expect someone to sprint before she can walk. Well, the same thing can be said when setting expectations for lifting weights.
Far too often, I see athletes following advanced training programs when their time would be much better spent focusing on the basics.
Here's a simple litmus test: If you can't perform at least 10 (five for girls) full range of motion Push-Ups, you have no business worrying about benching.
Furthermore, if you can't perform at least eight (three for girls), full range of motion Chin-Ups, you have no justification for doing an "arm day" at the gym involving 23 variations of the Biceps Curl.
Taking things a step further concerning strength numbers to shoot for, I like renowned strength coach Dan John's parameters:
High School Boys Varsity Standards
- Single-Arm Bench - 5x70 pounds each arm
- Standing Press - 115 pounds
- Power Clean - 205 pounds
- Deadlift - 315 pounds
- Back Squat - 255 pounds
- Front Squat - 205 pounds
- Power Clean & Jerk - 165 pounds
High School Girls Varsity Standards
- Single-Arm Bench - 10x30 pounds each arm
- Standing Press - 70 pounds
- Power Clean - 95 pounds
- Deadlift - 205 pounds
- Back Squat - 135 pounds
- Front Squat - 95 pounds
- Power Clean & Jerk - 75 pounds
Some of you may already have hit these targets. If so, awesome! But for most of you, they should provide a wake-up call telling you that you still have a lot of work to do.
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