Is elite training worth it for your student-athlete?

Is elite training worth it for your student-athlete?

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Is elite training worth it for your student-athlete?

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Christie Rampone is regarded as one of the finest athletes from the Jersey Shore to ever reach stardom.

She was a top-rate soccer and hoops player at Point Pleasant High School and Monmouth University before riding her soccer career to four World Cups and four Olympics.

She achieved much of that without the benefit of specialized strength training. But she wouldn’t be able to do so anymore.

“If I didn’t keep up with my strength and conditioning program, there’s no way I’d be able to run up and down the field with today’s younger players,” Rampone said. “I’d be at a severe disadvantage.”

Now 37, Rampone trains with personal strength and conditioning coach Mike Stehle at The Training Room in Point Pleasant. It’s an ackowledgement of a changing athletic landscape where those who surround her are quicker, stronger, faster, more agile and well-balanced than they were when she started playing at the international level.

Today’s athlete is mentally stronger, more focused and durable for life, thanks to an increased focus on strength and conditioning.

But even with the rise in certified personal and small-group strength and conditioning trainers who have opened facilities to accommodate the larger numbers of athletes seeking to elevate their sports performance, many parents doling out the money to help their children may not understand the good and not-so-good of the business or why one trainer is better over another.

“Back when I started, I didn’t really have a good strength and conditioning program. I didn’t have a set person who I trained with, nothing individualized to help me maximize my potential on the field,” she said. “It wasn’t until I tore my ACL in 2001 and went to rehab my knee that I realized how important strength and conditioning really was, and what it meant to my career as a soccer player.

“It’s been vitally important.”

Mickey Brueckner is the owner of The Annex Sports Performance Center in Chatham, a 5,000-square-foot facility which has been the training location to more than 250 athletes of all levels, including Morristown native and current Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello, as well as several Team USA Junior Olympic team members in the sports of lacrosse, field hockey, soccer and swimming, and he knows how important his role is to young athletes whose futures are entrusted to him and his staff.

“Some parents will spend $5,000 to have their kids play baseball year-round, but they’d be better off spending some of that money to have their kids training properly and effectively in a facility like ours,” Brueckner said. “And for the parents who spend the money to send their kids here, we feel it’s important to take into serious consideration the profound effect we can have on a young athlete’s life.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of deceit in this business.”

What’s the difference?

While nothing is an exact science when pinpointing whether or not a specific Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, as it is titled in the trade, is good or bad, there are plenty of indicators as to whether one or another might be a good fit for your student-athlete.

To start with, it’s important to deal with a certified professional from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“Check the trainer’s credentials. Does the person have an education that matches the certification? Is that certification up to date? There are people out there who might have decent programs that make a kid sweat and sore, but it could be just a glorified exercise program,” McAuliffe said.

One of the other sure-fire ways to know whether a CSCS is a good fit is simply to communicate with the student-athlete.

“Get feedback from the athlete as well,” Stehle said. “If injuries start popping up, be on the lookout because a kid shouldn’t get hurt while training with a professional. And find out how the coaches relate to your kid, whether the kid feels good about being there.”

Stehle also believes the results in competition is a strong indicator of a good CSCS, but not so much as to whether your soccer player is scoring more goals or your football player is scoring more touchdowns.

“Are they stronger throughout the game and not running out of gas by the fourth quarter? Are they better focused? Are they more confident? These are important factors to watch for if your kid is trying to become a better athlete,” he said. “When your kid steps onto the field, you should be able to see a difference in how your kid plays the game from many facets. And the team’s coach should see a difference.”

Hueston said determining whether a trainer is worth the money comes down to one huge factor.

“No question, there are the things that are measurable. When we’re working with an athlete, we want to make sure their squat numbers are rising, speed is getting better, 40-yard-dash times are coming down, vertical leap is higher … all those things,” he said. “But what about the whole package? Is the athlete’s attitude getting better, or are his grades getting better?

“If you’re spending even one dollar, and your child is not getting better as a person and an athlete, you should be going somewhere else. It’s very simple.”

One other major factor is whether the trainer evolves with the athletes who come through the doors of their facilities, Brueckner said.

“Things in this business are constantly evolving because kids and their lifestyles are constatly changing,” he said. “There are always new ways to train athletes and new methods and tools to help train them, but a trainer really should have a good understanding of how kids are evolving and make adjustments that meet the needs of those athletes.”

Are they worth it?

When it comes to specialized programs for student-athletes, one obvious question comes to mind — is it worth it?

Adam Feit, a sports performance coach at Reach Your Potential Training in Tinton Falls who previously served as the assistant strength and conditioning coach and nutrition coordinator for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and head sports performance coach for Eastern Michigan University in 2010-11, likens preparation for a high-level future in athletics to preparing for the SAT.

“If you’re going to take the SAT, going to an SAT prep class is going to help you do better on the test,” he said. “Same thing goes for preparing a kid for a future as a college athlete. It’s worth it to invest in that kid and help him be more prepared to reach that level of play and compete at that level.”

Erin Simon, a former Red Bank Regional soccer standout and now a freshman at Syracuse who rehabilitated a torn ACL at Elite Sports Physical Therapy several years ago before going through a strength and conditioning program with RYPT, would recommend such a program to all younger athletes possibly looking to compete in college at any level.

“If you’re strong, balanced, flexible, agile, quick and have the mental toughness to go with it, you’re that much better once you get to the college level,” she said. “You’ll be able to handle the bigger, stronger, faster athletes in college, and you won’t get injured as easily.”

As a parent of college athletes, Fallon believes specialized strength and conditioning programs for younger athletes are essential to their success, mainly because they won’t be shocked by the rigors of longer games and season at the college level.

“The biggest benefit to me as a parent is that my kids are more prepared for the challenges ahead in college,” she said.

Former Southern Regional and Penn State wrestler Frank Molinaro, who won an NCAA national championship last year before taking on an assistant coaching position with Rutgers University, said specialized strength and conditioning provides “a huge advantage” for younger athletes as they progress to higher levels and strongly recommends such programs.

“These professionals devote their lives to helping kids become better athletes and people,” he said, “so if you want to stay ahead of the curve it’s a great idea and well worth the time and money to take that initiative.”

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