Why your athlete should drive the personal trainer decision

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.

Remember the movie, The Sandlot? Set in the early 1960s, it’s about a group of neighborhood kids who spend their lazy summer days playing pick-up baseball games. There isn’t an adult in sight. Times have changed. Today, kids are more likely to participant in organized and adult-managed programs. I, for one, played travel baseball when I was in the fifth grade.

According to a 2016 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Talented youth are starting to be ranked nationally as early as sixth grade. As colleges start to look at middle school and early high school athletes, more pressure is created for the athlete and parent to do everything possible to succeed.” Families hiring personal trainers and coaches to work with their young athletes is becoming much more commonplace.

One of the pioneering companies that is helping families to facilitate the process of finding a personal trainer is CoachUp. Based in Newton, MA, it is a centralized repository through which clients can find vetted sport-specific coaches and trainers in their area. “About 55 percent of our business is athletes under 18,” noted Rob Kotzen, director of marketplace operations. “Those are clients who are trying to make their high school or middle school team and (go on to) play in college. Absolutely this segment is driven by the parents. They are coming to the site on behalf of their child.”

Kotzen observes that the spectrum of parents who seek CoachUp’s services range from those who know their child isn’t the next Stephen Curry and just want to improve their child’s skills to those who “even if they don’t come right out and tell you, ‘I want this kid to get a scholarship,’ they absolutely understand that to even begin to be considered for one, they have to be on the best teams and be one of the best players.”

Personal trainers were once considered to be a privileged perk for Hollywood celebrities and the rich. Their services are now used by people at all income levels. But a personal trainer for a teen athlete? Isn’t that going overboard? Can it increase risk of injury and burnout? We spoke with a student athlete and Dr. Joel Brenner, medical director of the sports medicine program at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Va., for insights into the rewards and risks of teen athletes using a personal trainer.

The Athlete Should Drive the Process

“That’s the number one factor, not only for a personal trainer, but for playing a particular sport,” notes Dr. Brenner, who wrote Sports Specialization and Intensive Training in Young Athletes for Pediatrics journal. “It always needs to be the child who wants to be participating. If it’s parent-driven that’s a set up for problems (such as burnout).”

Grace Hiller, 15, is a freshman softball player at Tattnall Square Academy in Georgia. She plays travel ball for the Birmingham Thunderbolts. She has verbally committed to playing at Clemson University. Grace recently started working with her school’s athletic trainer and strength coach, who runs an after-school workout program. “He is very knowledgeable and designs specific individualized programs,” she said.

Hiller told us that she was not so much interested in working with a personal trainer as she was to begin strength training for the upcoming season with an eye toward college. “I want to lift weights and condition my body to get stronger and faster,” she shared. “I want to be at my best so that I can contribute more and help my team be more successful. I know I will be lifting when I get to college, so I want to get a head start on the fundamentals of the lifts and get a good strength base to build on when I get there.”

Parents Need to Do Their Homework

In addition to certifications from such organizations as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Dr. Brenner states, “One of the most important things parents should look for is a personal trainer who has experience working with kids and understand the normal development of childhood. What percent of their clients is young athletes? Working with a 13-year-old is a lot different than working with a 30-year-old, not only physically, but mentally as well.  The trainer needs to understand what will motivate that young athlete to do the exercises but also to make sure they’re doing the exercises properly to decrease the chance of injury, especially growth-related injury.”

Finding a personal trainer, either by word of mouth or a service such as CoachUp, is only the first step, Dr. Brenner emphasizes. “It’s really important for the parent to go and observe their child training with the trainer. If the parent has any concerns, they should not be afraid to voice them with the trainer.”

It is up to the family to decide whether a personal trainer is a good fit (psychologically, financially) for them. Rob Kotzen has observed that, at heart, the growing trend of working with a personal trainer goes beyond college and scholarship aspirations. “No matter their child’s current skill levels or goals, parents just want to give their kid the opportunity to shine,” he said.

READ MORE: What parents should know about specialization, overuse injuries

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