Student-Centered Training: What School Can Teach Us About Sport Performance Training

Individual program design is one reason Driven is so special... they get better results.
A product of hard work and following the program.
Madison, a senior soccer player, demonstrating how strong she is on one leg!
Samantha and Jessica just starting their Driven Journey!

We all know that school is not a teenager’s favorite topic to talk about. Many pretend to not like school, complain when they have to go and anxiously await breaks and summer. I say they pretend to not like school; that is because we have all heard them say how “bored” they can get after being home for a single day. Also, if you ask a kid if school is important they will all agree that it is. But if you ask them, “how can schools be better?” they will passionately articulate everything that is wrong with the schooling system. I know this because I have coached and worked with teenage athletes and kids since I was 19 years old.

With all that being said, training at the highest-level models the schooling system and what the best teachers in America are able to achieve in their classroom. If we want our local athletes to reach their athletic potential I feel it is necessary to draw the similarities so that parents, coaches and players can best understand what it takes to achieve athletic excellence.

One goal for education in the 21st century is to create a classroom that puts the student at the center of their learning. Many outstanding teachers apply this model to increase student engagement, collaboration, and responsibility. They create a classroom that is rigorous but also rewarding. They know that they cannot treat every student the same way even in a classroom of 20 and that each student may be at a slightly different learning level. Lastly, excellence in the classroom produces great results that are not seen everywhere. While test scores are a controversial and hard place to prove results, great teachers forever leave their impact on students.

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So, how does this relate to sport-performance training? Well, lets analyze the traditional model of training and working out versus what we believe is a superior, more ethical and more efficient student-centered training model at Driven.

The traditional model for sport performance training is that kids would go to a session and the coach would put them through a work-out. For inexperienced student athletes these drills, exercises and tools would be new for them. Every 10-15 minutes the coach would then take them through a new set of exercises. And so on for about an hour and then the athlete would go home, usually exhausted.

The next session the athletes would show and they would be put through a different workout. Sometimes the drills have no relationship to the previous session, sometimes they would. But again, every 15 minutes the athletes would go through a new group of training drills or exercises until the hour is up. This session, while getting the athletes exhausted, did not have any connection to the previous session except for the fact that athletes are doing some form of running, jumping or strength training.

While this is a popular and traditional model for athletes we feel that it drastically limits the athlete’s development in so many different ways. The first element is how does each athlete improve at their own pace if they are doing generic drills as a group? I like to use Madison and Samantha as an example of this situation. Madison is now playing college soccer, has trained with me since she was a freshman and is extremely efficient in executing the most complex jumping, running and strength exercises. Samantha goes to the same middle school as Madison did but is just starting out at Driven. It would not be fair to either Madison or Samantha if they were expected to train doing the same things during a session. The drills would be too easy for Madison or too difficult for Samantha. In an effort to meet in the middle the session could be a waste for both athletes.

The next element is creating empowerment and independence in the athletic development process. By having the coach (teacher) at the front leading the entire session in a monkey-see-monkey-do format the athletes are not focusing on what is the best path for them. Instead, they expect to be told what to do and when to do it throughout the session. This doesn’t promote the athlete as front in center and in charge of their progress.

The key to making progress in anything in life is to have a plan and then execute that plan with great intensity and consistently. So while the sessions may be individually difficult for each athlete what is the line of progress that they will be taking? How is each session connected so that they systematically get harder? What is the end goal 3, 6 or 12 months from now? Athletes do not see progress because they are just doing stuff that is difficult and not learning the necessary skill sets, following the proper progressions and linking sessions and training programs together.  

As is the case in school, each lesson builds on one another to teach the content necessary so that students learn the skills and information expected. Math teachers do not teach algebra one day and then geometry the next because they know that if students are going to learn there needs to be structure in the learning process. They also know that students learn best when they are physically, emotionally and mentally engaged in the process and it isn’t just a daily lecture.

At Driven, this traditional model is NOT how we structure our training. We believe there’s a better, more effective and more rewarding approach to training ambitious student athletes.

At Driven we write PROGRAMS for each individual athlete so that each training session for a month is 85 % already written down for each individual athlete. Each program is designed for the next month of training and the exercise selection is based on the individuals experience, ability and mastery. My job as the coach is to teach them the vernacular of the program, coach them through each exercise with great technique and then hold them ACCOUNTABLE to the effort that is required to get the most out of their program.

The difference and the results that follow are incredible. By training using a student-centered and detail oriented model a few things happen.

The first is that each athlete feels confident that they can master the level of difficulty that they are at. They know they are not being thrown into a session that is going to be well over their heads and they are just going to struggle. Advanced athletes know that they always have something to strive for because the next progression is just weeks away. This creates an organic and individual competitiveness within each athlete as they want to see what they are capable of mastering.

Another beautiful thing to watch is that athletes take ownership of their program. As coaches we teach form, we make modifications when need be and we motivate each athlete to train hard and smart. With that said, we love watching athletes initiate their program, get started doing their exercises, set up the weights, adjust the hurdles and do the little things in the facility. This would not be possible if they were waiting around for us to tell them what to do. Instead, we watch athletes initiate action, something that as adults they will have to be willing to do if they want to be successful.

Student-centered training means that we get the best results that we possible can with our athletes. This is because we are not treating each athlete the same while giving them generic exercises. Athletes reach strength, speed and explosive progress faster and better because they continue to work on the program that is built for them. It is standard for our parents to say that their son or daughter became even more motivated when they felt how fast they got results. One parent in particular said this, “Jeffrey really appreciated the focused training and what motivated him was how fast he saw results of his hard training.”

Students many times get stuck because the teaching is not meeting them where they are. At Driven, we understand that a baseball player and a soccer player need different things. We understand that athletes who are beginners need to be treated differently than athletes who have been training with us for years. It is our passion and goal to meet each athlete exactly where they are and then contribute in helping them reach their goals and become the strongest version of themselves.

The point of this article was to express to parents, coaches and players who are frustrated that they haven’t achieved the fruits of their labor that it may be because you are doing things the same old way as you always have. It may be because you are not training to meet your needs and are just going through a generic session of drills.

If we want to develop athletes who not only reach their athletic potential but also become strong, tough, independent and action-takers in life than we need to start training them as such in every aspect of their development. Student-centered training not only achieves superior results on the field, it is a foundational piece of developing a well-rounded and independent person.

Gary Vesper has been training athletes and adults for over four years and has built his reputation on delivering powerful results in a safe and effective manner. Gary and the Driven Team believe that a strong environment does matter, that relationships and support systems are critical, and that we are all capable of much more than we ever expected. Life is too short and experiences are too important to settle for average.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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