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Fun Ways to Improve Youth Athlete Performance

K-12 P.E. Drill Thrill

By Master Trainer, Jamie Atlas

When it comes to the topic of youth fitness it can be easy to forget that youth are more than just smaller, less experienced versions of our adult athlete clientele.  It is important to remember that as youth, we also are dealing with an athlete that has the following:

  • Constantly changing level lengths/coordination challenges
  • Shortened attention span
  • Lower levels of functional strength
  • Lack of cross-platform skills

In order to best serve these developing athletes, a program should address and help progress all of the above.

Changing Level Lengths

By using SandBells, we can in part ‘overload’ the neural system in a similar way that you might ‘overload’ a muscle.  By using a load that is constantly and dynamically changing in force vectors, the body must (comparatively speaking) ‘overactivate’ its neural system when handling an unpredictable weight in three planes of motion.  When the body is led into a greater state of awareness of the changing relationships of the body, it can be proposed that the state of awareness can result in increased coordination.

Of course, due to the pliable nature of the SandBell, more challenging/advanced coordination building individual and partner drills can be used without fear of injury to the athlete, as the result of dropping a sSandBell on ones (or ones partners) foot rarely if ever results in discomfort.

Shortened Attention Span

While highly motivated athletes will always have the ability to pay attention to their sports-specific tasks, off-field training can sometimes suffer when the same repetitive, predictable movements are overused. Advantages of the the SandBells in regards to attention span includes the need for constant attention to grip throughout a full range of motion.

Lack of Functional Strength and Cross-Platform Skills

If it were to be said the playing in the playground allows children to master their own body movement, the next level of sport typically involves mastering one’s own body movement while resisting or creating force upon another person/object.

In order to teach real world functional strength, the full chain of force must be developed.  In order to achieve an advanced level of functional strength we must (A) use functional movements, and (B) strengthen all links of the ‘chain’. Typically in our athletes the hands are the weakest link, and one that needs training in order to maintain integrity throughout the entire system.  By using different tasks that require hand strength while going through the range of motion, we can be sure that we are teaching task-specific wrist strength combined with a functional focus to the rest of our movements. The (hopeful) result is a an athlete that moves well and appears stronger and more in control when put in situations where the body must be reactive and efficient through the entire functional chain (eg pushing, pulling or a battle for possession).

In order to build our athlete, we can use these foundational moves to challenge them in ways that can help us build them into the best athlete possible in the realm of performance, function and prevention of injuries.

The video below shows the following exercises:

SandBell Smash (0:01): An excellent full body exercise/coordination drill that is always a crowd favorite.  For extra challenges (and a more realistic sports-strength application) try the smash while in different foot positions (eg wide, split stance) or moving into or out of different foot positions.

SandBell Squat and Twist (0:55):  A great partner exercise or can be done against a wall if no partner is available.  When rotating, be sure to have the athlete keep their torso tall and the power coming from the hips and not the mid back/shoulders.  This rotational strength lends itself to multiple sporting movements, used anytime the athlete is running, changing directions or trying to evade a defender.

Contralateral 1 hand/1 foot Smash (1:52): In order to train an athlete to be stable in unstable positions, we need to challenge them to be coordinated under a variety of conditions.  This game can be played as a partner or as an individual in a ‘travelling’ type exercise format.  By asking the athlete to react and respond off of one leg in a variety of directions, you build a three dimensional awareness and a dynamic balance that has direct cross over to the athletes need to be able to stay balanced while moving in unpredictable movement patterns.

Youth athlete sandbell games video

Click to watch the youth athlete SandBell games video!

About Jamie Atlas

headshotJamie Atlas is an international presenter, owner of Bonza Bodies Fitness and seasoned fitness professional.

Originally from Australia and now located in Denver Colorado, Jamie has presented both locally and internationally on topics such as functional training and athletic performance. Jamie has also worked for and helped build education for a variety of well-recognized club and fitness equipment names in the fitness industry. Jamie has extensive experience serving small and large club chains and vast knowledge base of human movement and functional training. Jamie’s presentations are informative, effective and always entertaining!

Education, Certification, Professional Contributions:

  • Certified Personal Trainer since 1991
  • BSc, Neuroscience
  • Dip Ed, Sports & Recreation
  • PTA Global Certified Personal Trainer
  • ViPR Master Trainer lvl 4
  • 2003-2007
  • Hyperwear Master Trainer
  • GIFT Fellow (Gray Institute) 2010


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