Take The Stairs

Thoughts On Training Year-Round For The Youth Athlete

This next post will be a series of five core values that we have here at Optimal Performance Training Center. I want to preface this series by saying none of these were my idea, all of these were adopted by our gym, and originality is impossible. Just because you didn’t reinvent the wheel doesn’t make something any less applicable or useful. I say this because for far too long I thought that if my ideas were not solely my ideas, they didn’t matter and that no one would take me seriously. At the end of the day, there a lot of people in this field who are much smarter and have already done the heavy lifting as it were, so rather than waste time finding new ways to preach the same message, we’ll just go to the source.


If you’re skimming for answers, I’m going to stop you right here. I’m an information hoarder, so I like to get into the weeds with these blog posts. That being said, I’ll give you the cliff notes upfront:

  1. In my experience training only works when done consistently, year-round.
  2. Training is something you HAVE to prioritize.
  3. Like any good endeavor, it takes time to see any long term results.
  4. Love the process over the outcome.
  5. “A little and often over the long haul” – Dan John

There you have it. Check out the graphs below if you’re also a visual learner, but the rest of this post will be for the book worms (or blog worms). 

Process V.S. Outcome

“Take the Stairs”: There is no elevator to success. No successful endeavor ever happened overnight and this rings true in the world of athletic development. Another way I like to phrase this is “crockpot training”. We gather up all the information and knowledge, apply a plan that optimizes performance, and see what happens over a 6-12 month period. That’s why detox teas, fat loss pills, and 7-minute abs don’t do anything but leave people disappointed, discouraged, and out $37.99 plus shipping and handling time and time again. There is no short cut to success. 

Luckily the population I work with never runs into these scams(mainly because they don’t have a credit card), but they do have a different enemy they need to stay away from; themselves. And not so much themselves, but who they haven’t become yet. The common problem I see amongst young athletes, and quite frankly everyone I work with, is the inability to delay gratification. When I think of a really young child I get this image in my head of a mom in the checkout line at the grocery store. I think you know the rest, 

I want and I want it NOW!” or you’re going to an ear full of screams and tears. I think oftentimes what we forget is that these kids are not too far removed (if at all) from this mindset.  

Patience is not only a virtue but a learned skill. Am I saying that as a strength and conditioning coach it’s my job to teach kids patience? Maybe, maybe not. It is never my intention to parent someone else’s kid, but I do know that part of my job is to communicate the process and outline the big picture. I can create buy-in with kids on the short term goals that are most likely unachievable, or I can listen to my own advice and take the stairs by telling them the honest truth: training is a process and unlike sports, it is not a seasonal activity. It can only be successful when done year-round.

Consistency Kills

Being the “Speed Gym” in West Michigan, we know that speed kills. But going one step above that, I would say that consistency kills. World-renowned strength coach Dan John has a great little saying that goes, “A little and often, over the long haul” and I don’t think that could have been said any better. Coming from a guy who has coached athletes in the weight room since 1967 (and still does today) I’d say we’d all be foolish not to agree. 

The best athletes I’ve had the privilege to work share a lot of common qualities. But of all of these commonalities, the most important has been the dedication to year-round training. I don’t mean 10 months, I don’t even mean 11 months, I mean 12 months of uninterrupted training over the span of 2-5 YEARS. Didn’t matter what season it was, how many games they had played, or what sport they were in. They showed up in the hopes that one day, this would all pay off. THAT’S patience, but it’s also valuing the process over the outcome.

The weight room to me has always been a great equalizer. It does not discriminate, nor does it play favorites. The only way to get better is to show up and do the work, and showing up is 50% of the equation. I’ve seen first hand how training can change a person physically, emotionally, and mentally, and once they see it, it’s impossible to ever go back. Training is not a one time purchase, it’s an investment. You plan to do X so that you can one day have Y.

Death To Consistency

Yo-Yo Training

 Yo-Yo training is a term that I use to describe intermittent periods of training followed by equal or great periods of time off to “focus on my sport”. If you look at the graphic below you’ll see why I tend to roll my eyes when I hear this from both parents and athletes alike. 

What Yo-Yo training effectively accomplishes is short term improvement, followed by periods of detraining that bring you right back to where you were prior to the start of your training program. In my personal experience, this tends to be the norm. You have your 3 sport athlete or your year-round one sport athlete that cycles through training without ever really improving or reaching their full potential due to inconsistency.  At a younger age, this might not seem to be a big deal, but if this habit is formed early you run the risk of overuse injuries that keep you off the field as well as out of the gym. 

The solution to this is painfully simple: Train year-round.

It’s Not Maximal, It’s Optimal

In a year-round training model, consistency is constant, while intensity and frequency are variable. Off seasons are the time to hammer down and appropriately push, while athletes in season are there to fill in the gaps for maintenance and resiliency. This works only if a good base of training is established prior to any season. A good rule of thumb is twice as much to get started, half as much to maintain. 

When you compare the model below to the 3-month model, it’s clear to see that year-round training is the answer to long term improvement. Even during an in-season program the trend is constantly upward. Not to mention its increased sustainability as you don’t have to constantly feel rushed to improve. Remember, “A little and often, over the long haul”.

Now What?

 We know the answer, but giving ourselves permission to act is another problem altogether. If you’ve worked with any youth athlete who takes his or her’s athletics seriously, you know that they’re getting the most of their day to say the least. Playing multiple sports at a “high level” (I put this in quotes because unless you’re playing colligate or professional sports, you’re probably not playing at a high level) means having multiple practices and games during the week, so finding time to train is the limiting factor a majority of the time. In order to train year-round successfully, it needs to be treated like a sport. I don’t like the way that sounds, but it’s the honest truth. Just refer back to the graphs above. Training can’t be an afterthought anymore. It has to be a piece of the puzzle in order to yield a successful athlete. 

Everyone plays, but not everyone trains. If you truly are looking to find the advantage, edge, or whatever buzz word you like, you need to have well-defined goals and an idea that points you in the right direction. I say idea vs plan because things change, and rarely ever do plans hold up over the long term. It’s the process vs the outcome. Those who fall in love with the process, the ones who don’t take short cuts, are the ones who stand the test of time. It’s not about maximal results, it’s about constant, and never-ending improvement. It’s about doing “A little and often over the long haul”.