Advice for Off-Season Youth Training

Off-Season Strength Training: Four Points to Consider

Many families come to skills lessons and want to know more about off-season strength training and running for their youth athlete, daughter or son. I have collected below four points that I touch on when the conversations drift toward performance training.

Stay Athletic

There is such a thing as overdoing the mechanical practice of every pitch, swing, and ground ball, even at the youth level. The best thing we can teach our sons and daughters to do is to move correctly and to keep moving. My next sentence will make some sport specialization proponents squirm. PLAY OTHER SPORTS! Base the sport that the athlete is engaged with, on the seasons. Specialization is for the birds, burnout is very real, and in the end, we are all humans that will grow into adults. Not everyone will be a collegiate athlete, but take faith in that these young ones will absolutely be adults someday who have to operate in their bodies. It is best they find out how to make them work now! Take some time off from the sport of choice, but keep moving!

Good Movement Matters

Should the youth athlete in question wish to participate in only one sport ever (this is truly rare), then my next suggestion is to find someone who knows youth performance training in your area. At Frozen Ropes Hershey, athletes of every age are coached through basic good movement patterns in their warm-up and even within the skills session itself. Athletes are guided through bear crawls, planks, supine bridges, inchworms, burpees, triceps pushups, isometric squats, and instruction on landing properly from a jump. Whether or not the athlete comes to me for pitching, hitting, or catching, I insert a few easy to follow movements in every session, that will not only teach them something about the skill they want to learn, but will also stealthily make them stronger or begin to create good movements patterns. The athletes get stronger and more stable without even knowing it.

Core is Queen (or King)

Your “core” (basically everything on your body from the top of your shoulders, to below your butt) holds all your organs in place but it also aids in movement and prevents injury. Your core is also what will hold you upright after the competitive sports are finished. It is the backbone of movement. Because it is so important, it is ok not only to start with core work before your regular skills sessions but also to practice some kind of core work every day. Go for stability at the beginning so pick something that you can hold for a while and with good alignment. Planks and side planks are so very effective in this arena, and even the professionals and collegiate athletes I have coached will do them.

A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

I could hit you with a few more sports clichés, but I’ll abstain. In youth performance training, we want to make sure that the structure is there before we add resistance. Gravity really does count as resistance, and that should be where many young athletes spend time before loading up a bar and hammering out some next-level deadlifts. I usually start talking about athletes engaging in some kind of guided movement training around the ages of 12-13. Because of the instruction I offer in lessons I can usually tell when an athlete could benefit from hitting the weight room, but also when they are physically capable of handling the added focus of building strength

Final Thoughts

Everyone can benefit from performance training, even adults. It doesn’t matter if your particular trajectory takes you to the collegiate ranks, professional realm, or just allows you to kick tail in your adult cycling classes. I have had athletes who have come to me for softball skills lessons, were then introduced to the weight room, and ended up moving onto being stars on their track teams instead. The confidence some athletes find in the weight room permeates all other aspects of their lives, not just their sports. I have seen even the timidest of athletes come alive when they set a personal best, or finally get their first full pull-up. It is worth investigating for your youth athlete, but it is worth investigating for yourself as well.

How do you Define Success?

Type into any search engine the word “success” and you probably get a few definitions. Next, click on the images tab while performing your search. I bet there are pictures of people raising their hands in the air, people summiting breathtaking mountains, and winning footraces. One of my favorite images of the word, which has been over-used and clichéd, is the image of an iceberg. The tip of the giant sits above the water and is clearly visible in all its glistening glory, symbolizing victory. But the meat of the mass, symbolizing hard work and sacrifice, sits below the surface, naked to the public eye. It's this hidden section that is clearly responsible for the visible part of the ice. Rather than see my involvement with this sport as a series of icebergs or conquests, I like to treat this sport as more of a timeline of lessons and adventures.

The Icebreaker and the Introduction

I am a hard-working Midwest athlete from Des Moines, IA who didn’t know that it was possible to go to college for a softball scholarship until the process was thrust upon my lap. Being a die-hard Iowa Hawkeye all of my life, playing for the Hawks and wearing the black and gold was exactly what I hoped for when my recruiting process started. I had the joy and luck of playing for softball legend, Gayle Blevins who increased my softball IQ by leaps and bounds. By my senior year, I was exploring professional softball playing options beyond college. Although I had options to remain in the USA and play professionally, I decided to play in Italy with the hopes of playing for the Italian National Team. My grandfather was born in Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna, Italy, and I was eligible for dual citizenship.

Lisa - Iowa Iceberg Intro 2 (2)
Born a Hawkeye
Lisa Caserta 2009
Pitching for Caserta (2009)

The Tip of the Iceberg: Success

I first stepped off the plane in Naples, Italy in 2005. I didn’t know where I would be living, who my teammates were, nor did I know any Italian words! My first few weeks were agonizingly frustrating with my team in Caserta while I got my bearings. Even amidst my discomfort, I could sense this experience was already making a change in me. A few weeks later, I had the privilege of playing my first few games for the Italian National Team. Over the course of the next 15+ years, I have gotten married, had two children, coached in Division I softball, coached Division III softball, coached youth softball, and coached for the Italian National Team itself before being asked to play again to assist with qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Lisa Coaching
Coaching the Italian National Team
Lisa playing - Iceberg
Olympic Qualifier 2019

Most everyone with the Italian National Team plays in the Italian League or in the NPF (National Pro Fastpitch) in the USA. After the 2019 regular season in Italy, selections were made to the National Team Training Camp to be held in Ronchi Dei Leggionari. From there, 17 athletes were picked to compete for the European Championships to be held in Oztrava, Czech Republic at the end of June. The cohesiveness and dominance that this year’s team exhibited en route to a European Championships gold medal was something I had not experienced in a long time. Ultimately, the final roster of 15 continued to play well through the Olympic Qualifier, and we punched our ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We were the third team to do so after Japan and the United States. Hurrah!

Iceburg - success (3)
Lisa - Iceburg (2)

So, what is this Game Really About?

I will always remember those wins, but if I look at this game and my experiences as a whole, I realize that my involvement in this sport has always been for love of adventure and learning, not the icebergs. I hold close to my heart, the life lessons that sport has provided me and work to be a better human. Those same lessons help me create a better life for my children. What matters to me most is what this game has taught me, win or lose. And if I am totally honest, the lessons abound more from losses than they ever do from wins.

Long before I ever played in a game, I picked up a ball because it meant I could hang with my parents outdoors. I vividly remember getting clocked in the ear with a ball thrown by my mother in our back yard in Woodbine, IA, and then being coaxed back outside amid my crocodile tears to keep playing. There was a lesson learned from that moment, and my parents made sure I arrived to learn it. Whatever your avenue for learning about this life and appreciating this brief existence we have on this rock, I suggest you grab it and run gloriously onward! Life is a lesson and sport is your highway toward some very important learning!