Jan 13, 2017
Ready for the Next Level
Tim Crowley

In the past four years, the athletic programs at Montverde (Fla.) Academy have won eight national championships — four in boys’ soccer, three in boys’ basketball, and one in girls’ soccer. During that time, we’ve also had 170 athletes commit to continue their careers in college.

With so many MVA athletes moving on to the next level after they leave our campus, I’ve had to learn how to prepare them to take this step. I’ve met with many top collegiate strength and conditioning coaches to find out what they want from high school athletes. Unanimously, they said the two most important characteristics for incoming athletes to have were good weightroom skills and being injury-free.

This insight has shaped the way I use MVA’s strength and conditioning program to prepare our athletes for college. First, we focus on increasing their mobility and movement efficiency so they arrive at their next destination injury-free. Then, we implement consistent, progressive training that emphasizes proper lifting mechanics and strength development. Finally, we develop sound nutritional and recovery habits to put our athletes one step ahead of their peers.

Here’s a look at the first step, preventing injuries:

Too many young athletes suffer career-ending injuries before they even get to college. We prevent this with MVA athletes by targeting problem areas that could leave them vulnerable to injury.

For example, young athletes often lack ankle, hip, thoracic spine, and shoulder mobility. This can lead to poor movement skills, movement compensations, and overuse injuries. We target this issue with exercises that are incorporated into every training session, either during the warm-up or paired with a strength exercise.

In addition, many teen athletes lack the eccentric strength and control necessary for proper stopping, cutting, turning, and landing, which is a main factor in many knee injuries. Strengthening this quality in high school athletes keeps these injuries at bay once they go to college.

To address issues with mobility and eccentric strength and control, we include the following exercises into every training session. Doing so has dramatically reduced our athletes’ incidence and severity of injuries.

• Soft-tissue work: We begin and end all workouts with foam rolling to increase blood flow in muscles and release tight, restricted areas. To target the glutes and calves, we use tennis balls and softballs, and we use golf balls for the plantar fascia.

• Ankle mobility: A lack of ankle mobility can lead to patellar tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendon injuries. To combat this, we include ankle mobility drills in our daily warm-ups. Our standard exercise is similar to a calf stretch — athletes dorsiflex their ankles while keeping their heels on the floor. However, the goal is to increase range of motion at the joint rather than the muscle. This is done by flexing the knee slightly, which takes the tension off of the gastrocnemius. Athletes do one set of 10 on each leg, and reps are done at a rate of one per second.

• Mini band walks: Strengthening the external rotators of the hips and glute medius with band walks reduces the frequency of ankle sprains and increases athletes’ eccentric strength. Our athletes use the bands to walk 10 yards forward, backward, and laterally. Over time, we progress the level of resistance in the bands and extend the distance to 15 yards.

• Mini hurdles: We do hurdle drills after our warm-up and before lifting. These exercises emphasize proper landing skills, which require ankle mobility, hip mobility, eccentric control, and stability. Hurdles also train athletes to decelerate and absorb force in a lateral direction, preventing injuries that come from sudden stops and starts. Some of the movements we use with the hurdles include single-leg linear and lateral hop and stick, as well as two-footed linear and lateral jumps and landings. During workouts, athletes clear four six-inch hurdles at a time and do two sets of each movement. As they advance, we progress to four sets.

Tim Crowley, CSCS, PES, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Montverde (Fla.) Academy. He holds elite coaching licenses with USA Cycling and USA Triathlon, and he has been named Development Coach of the Year and Elite Coach of the Year by the latter organization. He is also the owner of TC2 Coaching, LLC.

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