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The Whole Athlete Part Four: Strength Training

By Julie Shepherd

Today will be our final installment in our four-part series of the Whole Athlete. If you missed the previous posts you can find them here; Nutrition – part one, Sleep-part two, and Mindset, part three.

In our final post, we will discuss the importance of building strength in our teen athlete. We all know the importance of training your sport, working individual skills, and practicing with your team, but often times strength training is overlooked for the sake of more training on the ball or on the field, court, or pool.

When can you begin strength training? Strength training can start younger than you might think. At middle school age and even younger, kids can work on body awareness and control. This age group will mainly use their own bodyweight to learn how to move properly. During these years, kids are growing fast and their movement and body control can literally change day by day. Repetition is vital during these years.

As the kids enter puberty and have more control over their bodies, we can start to add some external load to the movements and some intensity. We still want to keep it simple, with movements like goblet squats, kettlebell deadlifts, pull-ups, and dumbbell rows. As their training age (time spent training) increases we can move into more advanced movements such as front squats, trap bar deadlifts, weighted pull-ups, and barbell rows.

One of the many benefits of strength training is reducing the risk of injury in our youth athletes. When athletes learn how to move properly, train how to jump and land (absorb force), and build their engines, they are less likely to get hurt on the field, court, etc. A player sitting on the bench recovering from injury doesn’t do the team any good and can put themselves at risk for recurring injuries.

Another benefit of strength training is becoming better at your sport. If you are stronger, you are faster. If you are more powerful, you can defend better. If you are more fit, you can last longer in the game. What athlete doesn’t want to get stronger and faster?

On a personal note, I have witnessed both of my daughters go through what I would call “many ups and downs” when it comes to strength training. I think it is hard to be parent and coach and over the years it may or may not have caused a few disagreements. Because this is my profession, all I ever wanted was for my kids to believe in what I believe and understand the importance of strength training. It was not easy in their younger years. Now that they are 14 and 17, they both are starting to put it together and see the benefits. Not only do they feel stronger in their sport, but also in how they feel. The confidence exudes in their smile after a training session. It makes them want to eat better, sleep more, and train more.

How long and how often do kids need to train? Of course, there is a pie in the sky answer to this question. If kids had the time, two days a week in their younger years and up to four days a week as they get older. Now, we all know kids are overscheduled with all their activities, school work, and their social life. Balance is important. When first starting out, it is important that kids are having fun while they are training. If they feel like it is a chore or something they don’t really want to do (re-read above paragraph) this can affect how they feel about training when they get older and even into their adult years. Start small, one day a week is great. Get them moving, teach them a few things each class and repeat. As they get older and can start to build muscle, two to four days a week would be great. Again, 1 ½ hours would be amazing, but if they can get in 30-40 minutes per session that is better than nothing at all.

If you learn one thing from this article, I would love it to be your understanding of how important and beneficial strength training is for your teen athlete. This four-part series is called The Whole Athlete, if they don’t have all the pieces in place then it is difficult for them to realize their full potential.

We have the perfect way for you teen athlete to begin or continue their strength training journey. We are starting our Equip spring session on Thursday, Feb. 28th, 2019 and it will run every Thursday until May 2nd. Classes will be one hour, 4:30-5:30. Here is the link to sign up, link.

The Whole Athlete Part 3 of 4: Mindset

The Whole Athlete –
Part 3 of 4: The Power of The Mind

By Julie Shepherd

Today, we will continue our conversation on the whole athlete and talk about the power of the mind (if you missed part one and two you can find them here and here).

MIndset. What does it have to do with sports, athletic ability, or training? It actually has a lot to with all three. The famous Willie Mays said, “What you are thinking, what shape your mind is in, is what makes the biggest difference of all”. How you think and feel during training and on game day can affect your performance.

In the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., two types of mindsets are discussed; a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is someone who is not open to learning, does not take constructive criticism well, and thinks they have all they need to succeed without the help of others. Athletes with a fixed mindset seem to place blame on others and don’t take the time to look inward and see how they can improve. On the opposite spectrum, an athlete with a growth mindset is always looking to learn and grow. They seek out advice on how to improve and then actually do what is suggested. Athletes possessing a growth mindset understand they have to continue to work in order to be the best and not just rely on their talent.

Another area of mindset that can affect your performance is how you prepare your thoughts before a game or training. Are you positive and do you think about how you are going to win or train to the best of your ability? Or are you negative and think about all the things you are bad at or might do wrong? Do you tell yourself you are going to be great? Or do you say there’s no way I can beat that team? It seems trivial, but your chances of beating the team decrease when you put negative thoughts into your head. Now I’m not saying you will beat a team just because you tell yourself you can, but you definitely have a better chance if you have positive thoughts.

Meditation is all the rage right now, and I believe it has a place in the sports world. If you have the ability to clear your mind and create a vision in your head of how you are going to play, your chance for success can increase. We see athletes with their headphones in before the game, listening to music, a book, or maybe a meditation app to help prepare themselves to get into the right mindset. They might need to calm down, they might want to get pumped up, or maybe they are listening to themselves saying a mantra over and over again.

We have all heard from our own mouths or the sidelines, “Get your head in the game” and this can mean many things. One thing is for sure, if mentally you are somewhere else besides in the moment, the outcome is not going to be something you want. Next time you are heading to practice or to a game, check your thoughts, focus on a growth mindset, and take your game to a new level!

I wanted to share with you a video that I saw many years ago but has stayed with me until this day. If you have some time, take a look and ask yourself, are you ready for The Grind?

The Whole Athlete (Four Part Series) Part Two of Four: Sleep

By Julie Shepherd


Sleep, good-old-fashioned sleep.  Can you remember the last night you had a really good sleep?  Your head hit the pillow and you didn’t wake up until the next morning.  You got out of bed with a smile on your face, full of energy, eager to start the day. Now compare it to a night when you hit the pillow, tossed and turned, eyes wide open, and barely got any sleep.  How did your mood compare? Maybe no smile, maybe grumpy wishing you could go back to sleep.

Today we are going to continue our conversation on building the whole teen athlete (if you missed part one on nutrition you can find it here).  We will explore what happens to your body when you sleep and why sleep is so vitally important.  We will also look at how sleep or lack of sleep can affect your mental and physical game and some strategies on how to get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.  It is recommended that teen athletes between the ages of 14-17 should sleep between eight to ten hours. During sleep we cycle through four to five phases several times during the night.  The first few phases occur while we are falling asleep, perhaps still aware of our surroundings, but our awareness fades and, our body temperature starts to drop until we are finally asleep.  The next two phases are where the magic happens. This is when we get our deepest and most restorative sleep. During these phases, the body repairs muscles and tissues, releases hormones, such as human growth hormone, and restores energy.  Some research has also found that during this phase your brain prepares for new learning when you wake up. This is the time when your brain transfers short-term memory into long-term storage.

Now that you understand a little more about sleep and what happens while we sleep, let’s dive into why sleep can affect your physical game.  As a teen athlete, your decision making and reaction time must be quick. If you take too long to decide who should get the ball or if you should take a shot, the other team can take advantage which may be the difference between a win and a loss.  Sleep deprivation has been shown to negatively impact your decision-making skills, decrease your reaction time, and inhibit your ability to recover properly. All of these deficits, either alone or together, can increase your risk of injury.

Stanford University Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine has conducted many studies examining the effects of sleep on athletes.  In one particular study, they examined the effects of extended sleep on several different athletic teams. Each group was given a goal of 10 hours of sleep per night during a five to eight week period.  The results showed basketball players achieved a more accurate shot, swimmers improved turn times and kick strokes, and football players improved their 20-yard shuttle. In another study, they found that athletes who slept at least 8 hours a night decreased their risk of injury by 68%.  If you are looking to improve your game at all, this research shows you how important sleep is to performance.

We all know the importance of your mental state on game day.  I’m sure you know how off you can feel if you are having a bad day, didn’t do well on a test, are experiencing relationship issues, or any other plethora of reasons you can feel off.  These life issues are typically something we deal with on a daily basis on some level or another. Now add how you feel when you wake up from a restless night of sleep. A little groggy, spacey, maybe you have some difficulty making decisions and perhaps a little grumpy.  How do you think that affects your play and ability to be a good teammate? Sleep deprivation can make you more irritable and decrease your ability to cope with stressful situations. A teen athlete’s ability to manage a bad call or poor decision by a teammate can be negatively impacted if they are sleep deprived.

Now we know why we need to get a good night’s sleep, but how do we do our best to make it happen?  First and most important, put down your electronics; phone, iPad, Kindle, video game, etc at least two hours before going to bed.  The blue light emitted from these devices can trick your mind into thinking it is daytime. Second, try and be consistent on what time you go to bed and when you wake up.  An irregular pattern can affect your levels of melatonin, a hormone which helps you fall asleep. Finally, relax your mind. Listen to music, read a book, or meditate.

Getting a good night’s sleep has many benefits.  When a teen athlete gets the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep, they are better equipped to recover, restore energy, and help transfer short-term memory to long-term storage.  Mentally they can also handle situations on the field appropriately and ensure their speed, reaction time, and decision making are at it’s best.

Next up, part three – Mindset










The Whole Athlete (Four Part Series) Part One of Four: Nutrition

By Julie Shepherd

We talk a lot about the importance of building strength in our athletes.  The benefits are vast and include increasing speed, power, endurance, explosiveness, and reducing the risk of injuries.  But there are many aspects to building a strong athlete outside of just strength they do not get enough attention. Today we are going to start a four part series on building the whole athlete.  Our topics will include, nutrition, sleep, mindset, and strength. We will dive a little deeper into each of these topics and discuss the importance they all hold and how if one is “off” it can affect all.  Our focus today will be on the topic of nutrition.


As coaches, we know what an important role nutrition plays in how our athletes perform in training and games.  Not only do we need to think about what the athletes eat and drink before and after games, but also leading up to competition and training days. In today’s article we will tackle the topic of what to eat and when.  First, let’s go over the macronutrients and what role they play in athletic performance.


Proteins:  Responsible for building, maintenance, and recovery of the muscles.  


Carbohydrates: Provide energy for the body.


Fats:  Energy source for longer duration activity, assists in keeping hormones in balance, and helps regulate the level of inflammation in the body.


Eating a well balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins,and fats is important for overall performance.  Eating whole foods and limiting the amount of processed and high sugar foods is always the best option.  Your athletes should try and eat a variety of foods to help ensure you get all your essential vitamins and minerals.  If you have an athlete that is a vegetarian they can get protein by eating beans, lentils, and nut butters, to name a few.  


Nutrition Before Trainings:


Athletes are busy with school and activities and I know it can be hard to get a snack in before training, but it is important.  If they go into practice hungry their risk of injury increases. Their muscles may not be supplied with enough energy and they can be distracted by their hunger.  There are many small snacks they can choose from such as a small sandwich with chicken or lunch meat, a piece of fruit with cheese, or a low sugar energy bar.


It is important that athletes allow enough time for digestion as 60-80% of your blood supply goes to the muscles in use during physical activity.  This decreases the available blood supply to your stomach that is needed for digestion. Without enough time alloted to digestion the athlete can feel uncomfortable during training experiencing cramps, or gassy feelings, which can distract  

Them. In addition to these uncomfortable feelings the athlete will not be able to access this fuel during physical activity.  Eating 30-60 minutes before training may allow enough time for proper digestion.


Game Day Nutrition:


What your athlete eats on game day will depend on the time of their first game.  If they have a mid-morning or early afternoon game, they can eat a full meal for breakfast and a small snack for lunch.  Some good options include:

-eggs, toast/bagel, with fresh fruit,

-yogurt and granola

-fruit smoothie

-sandwich with protein such as chicken or lunchmeat,

-pasta with protein and a salad.  

Steer them clear of high fat/greasy foods as these take longer to digest and can make them feel sluggish.  


Following a game, it is important for them to eat something within two hours.  Encourage your athletes to eat carbohydrates to refuel the muscles and protein for repair and growth.  If they will have a second game, make sure they eat a light meal no more than 60 minutes before the game.  


As coaches, we want to make sure athletes are properly fueled to be able to perform to their best ability, play to the final whistle, and reduce the risk of injury.  It is important for us to be a good example and practice what we preach. If we are snacking on sugary, heavy/greasy food, it will be hard for them to listen to our suggestion.  Show them how fueling your body with the highest quality whole foods will allow them to put their best foot forward when they step onto the court, field, etc.


Game Ball

By Julie Shepherd


When I was in high school I was a cheerleader and ran track.  Although I absolutely loved my experiences with these two sports, I never played a team sport and as an adult it is definitely something I feel like I missed out on.  The camaraderie of a team is something special. Your teammates cheer you on when you achieve good things and they rally around you when you feel like you made a mistake.  You grab the trophy as a team and walk off the field as a team talking about how you can do better next time. It’s a thing of beauty to watch and more often than not, it brings tears to my eyes when I witness this team mentality.  


We were fortunate to be a part of this team mentality over the last nine weeks while working with four teams (10u, 11u, 12u and 13u) from the BStings Baseball Club.   Each team had a unique personality, but they all exhibited that special team camaraderie.

What was great about our time with the BStings was that I believe we learned just as much from them as they did from us.  


Today, I want to share with you three things I learned from the BStings over the last nine weeks:

1.Be Flexible.  We go into each and every class with a plan on what we will teach.  It is a progression from the previous training session to build on the skills we want them to “master” by the end of their nine week program.  Admittedly, I like things to go as planned, but we quickly learned some days we had to change things on the fly. Some days we needed structure and others needed to be a little more free flowing.  I think it is important to take cues from your athletes on what they need on any particular day, and when we did this the classes were successful.

2.Have Fun.  We only have 45 minutes with each team, which is not a lot of time.  We wanted to make sure they left each class learning something new. On occasion, we might have gotten a little too serious trying to get it all done.  There were a few boys on the team that always seemed to remind us in a subtle way that having fun is part of the learning process. From the dancing, to the infamous yell one of the boys would do about every 5 minutes, it always put a smile on my face and kept me in check.

3.Confidence breeds Engagement.  The first few weeks most of the work we did was new to everyone.  We needed more time to explain the movements and this sometimes turned into less engagement and attentiveness from the teams.  I believe the cause of this was because they were not confident with what they were doing, and thus they reverted to making jokes or not paying attention.  As the weeks went on and they gained confidence with the program, there paid more attention to what they were doing. Adding a little weight to a movement or more reps of push ups (they loved doing the push ups) kept them engaged.  By the final week I was proud there was less instruction and more doing.


I hope in the future we can work with them again.  I could not be more proud of them and the effort they gave during the nine weeks with us.  I will conclude with an anecdote on my final day with the 13U team. We had a great session and as I was about to start cleaning up, one of the boys called me over to the team.  He handed me a ball they had all signed and said, “thank you” from the whole team. On that day, at that moment, I felt like I was part of a team. I will cherish that “game ball” forever!


Thank you BStings!



The rise of ACL injuries among our female student athletes; Equipped with information, are we willing to change the way we train?

By Andy Boone and Julie Shepherd


We’d like to kick-start a discussion around the rising number of Anterior Cruciate Ligament (“ACL”) injuries among our female student athletes. Equip Sports Performance is aware of at least 12 Marin County female student athletes who suffered ACL injuries in the last three years alone. Although we cannot prevent all ACL injuries, it’s been shown that there are in fact steps we can take to reduce the rate of occurrence. So, what do we know, and what steps can we take to address this problem?

This is by no means intended to be a scholarly paper, but rather anecdotal and again, our effort to begin a conversation. Why do so many ACL injuries occur? Are females at greater risk than males? What steps can individual athletes take to help mitigate risks? Are there training principles and activities whole teams should implement and prioritize?

For starters, let’s first make sure we are all on the same page. What is the ACL and what are the most common injuries?

The ACL is one of the key ligaments which helps stabilize the knee joint. The ACL performs this function by attaching to the femur on one end, and to the tibia on the other. It is the primary restraint to forward motion of the shin bone or tibia. The ACL prevents the tibia from sliding too far forward and also helps stabilize other movements at the joint, including angulation and rotation.

Student athletes typically sustain ACL injuries one of two ways. The first is through contact. An athlete may run into another athlete resulting in player to player contact or on more rare occasions, he/she may run into a stationary object ike a goal post. Rare indeed, but it does happen.

The second and more common is the non-contact ACL injury. Non-contact ACL injuries typically occur when athletes cut, change direction, jump, land and/or abruptly decelerate. We believe the most common event causing ACL injuries is landing and/or abrupt deceleration. It is estimated that this event causes about 70% of all ACL injuries.

It’s been shown that female athletes are approximately eight times more likely to injure their ACL when compared to same-age males. It’s also believed there are several reasons female athletes are more prone to this specific injury. First (and as strange as it may sound), female athletes may naturally over develop quadricep strength compared to hamstring strength. On its own and under normal demands this is neither unnatural nor problematic. However, under high demand activities involving high stress on the knee joint, balance between the quadricep and the hamstring becomes essential as both must contract working together to help stabilize the knee. This co-contraction is especially important during activity which include cutting, pivoting and changing directions. If the hamstring muscle is not strong enough to assist and/or absorb impact, it cannot stop the tibia (shinbone) from moving too far forward, which very simply overextends the ACL increasing the risk of a potential tear.

In addition to overdeveloped quadriceps combined with poor hamstring strength, it’s been shown that many female athletes are prone to landing with hips and knees extended or straight and often with their knees turned inward or what’s referred to as a valgus position. Landing in this position increases tension on the connective tissues of the knee and is linked to a higher risk of ACL injury.

With the above challenges in mind, supporting a large number of Marin County female student athletes across a variety of demanding athletic environments, Equip Sports Performance has set forth a basic program philosophy. Our training program aims to reduce the incidence of ACL injuries which occur during both training and competition.

Ideally, sports performance and training programs should focus on repeated activation and strengthening of the hamstring musculature and supporting soft tissues. Activating and strengthening the hamstring musculature should be prioritized, built into in-season and off-season training, daily warm-ups and never neglected on game day.

Training sessions with these principles may progress to weighted single leg deadlifts and weighted trap bar deadlifts. However, when athletes begin a strength program they should work with a coach who understands bodyweight movement progressions in advance of weighted options. For example, the deadlift begins with first learning how to brace and activate musculature to ensure spinal integrity. This happens unweighted while an athlete lies on his or her back or holds a static plank position. Once proper bracing is mastered, athletes learn to correctly hinge with the hip as a prerequisite to lifting weighted implements from the floor. Once an athlete learns to hinge correctly, he/she may begin lifting light kettlebells and one day they may progress to a trap bar or barbell lift, both more complex movements.

Sports performance and training programs must teach jumping and landing techniques including learning how to load the posterior chain properly in advance of box jumps and other multidirectional jumping activities.

At Equip Sports Performance, it is not uncommon to meet high-level athletes including collegiate, high school, club lacrosse, basketball and soccer players, who have never learned to jump and land correctly. We also observe coaches, parents, and other well intentioned adults incorporating advanced plyometric training principles (the box jump!) into training programs, however likely unaware of the above foundational movements, and inherent risks that may result from these training efforts.

Not unlike the above hamstring strength principles, training sessions aimed to teach jumping and landing may first begin with bracing and activating the correct musculature to ensure spinal integrity. Following this, hip hinging is learned. Once mastered, athletes may then progress to low box jumps, jumping and landing in place, and broad jumps. Advanced plyometric training may include hurdle jumps, and single leg bounding, but only after beginning jumping and landing techniques have been mastered.

ACL injuries are an unfortunate part of sport. These injuries will occur during both training and competition. However, if there are in fact steps we can take collectively to help reduce the risk of these injuries, isn’t it time we consider how clubs, coaches, and our student athletes spend time training?

A reduction in time spent teaching and learning the technical side of a given sport may increase time spent building sound movement progressions aimed specifically at reducing occurrence of injuries. By including thoughtful, intentional, and progressive strength training along with progressive jumping and landing techniques, we believe a student athlete reduces the risk of facing ACL woes. Perhaps more than an opportunity to train this philosophy, it may be our collective responsibility.

We’d like to know what you think! To learn more about our program or if you’d like to share your thoughts please email Julie Shepherd at 415-686-1493 or julie@equipsports.us.





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