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To The High School Athlete: Four Things to Learn in 4 Years

By Brett Klika

High school athletics is a great time for youngsters to learn valuable lessons about life.  Teamwork, commitment, competition, discipline, and sacrifice all make up the backbone of athletic competition and transiently, success in life.  The later of the last two, success in life, should be of primary concern when working with high schoolers.  As I have written before, statistics suggest that about 1% of the 7 million participants in high school athletics will receive a scholarship to division 1 school.  Less than 1% of that 1% will ever play a sport professionally.  Another 1% of that 1% will be able to support themselves and their family for life from athletics. As you can see, very few high school athletes will use their actual athletic skill in their future professional lives.  For this reason, it is essential that when working with high school kids, we always keep the “big picture” in mind.

Whether you’re a high school athlete, or the parent of a high school athlete, the four years in high school athletics can lay the foundation for a life of health, wellness, and success in athletics!  Working with as many high school athletes as I have, I’ve seen many mistakes in regards to how high school athletes are trained, the habits they form, and their thought process in regards to sports.  The following are suggestions based on my personal experience, along with my conversations on the topic with top collegiate and professional athletes, men and women, from a variety of sports.

1.  Have designated time off from your sport. 
Sports go year-round for most serious athletes in high school.  Tournaments, games, practices, and other training take up a majority of an athlete’s time.  Injuries, stress, mental fatigue, and just plain boredom can significantly impair an athlete’s performance.  These are all manifestations of non-stop, monotonous training.  Every serious athlete I have trained would benefit from a month off every year from their sport, in addition to at least 1 day off per week.  During that month, they don’t sit on the couch all day; they have a chance at different pursuits.  Focusing on a different aspect of training, facilitating a social life, relaxing, or doing another hobby.  When a sport becomes an athlete’s primary identity, it’s not only unfortunate, it’s dangerous! Of course coaches will put on the pressure to compete non-stop.  The fact is, the month off will put you ahead of everyone. It gets you excited to play again. 

2.  Get in a training regiment. 
The two most important things about a training regiment for high schoolers are education and commitment. When you stop to think about it, a high school program is an athletes introduction to organized exercise, and may be the only supervised program they ever undertake.  Most older guys getting hurt in gyms do so by doing things they “learned in high school”. Good technique, good design, and good execution need to be the absolute foundation of a high school training program.  Too many coaches get carried away with numbers in the weight room way to early in a youngster’s development.  Not only does this put them at risk of injury, it compromises performance later in their career.  When an athlete learns to do something well, they continue to improve their entire career.  In general, high school boys need to improve their lower body strength, girls need to improve upper body strength.  Talk to a reputable trainer from a reputable facility to design a program.

3.  Learn the basics of cooking and nutrition!
I’m not talking about 7 course meals custom made for specific nutritional needs, I’m talking about scrambling eggs, grilling a chicken breast, boiling pasta, using a rice cooker, and making a turkey sandwich.  I’m talking about having the knowledge that Taco Bell is not real human food.  Bad eating habits while living at home turn into worse eating habits when you move out.  What you eat is your fuel for athletic performance.  Athletes need to learn as well as practice these principles from a young age.  I lived with wrestlers and baseball players in college.  The wrestler would starve and dehydrate himself, and then survive in hot dogs from Circle K.  Another roommate could only make cereal and lived on fast food. They always “felt like crap” during practice.  Both were riddled with soft tissue injuries during their entire careers.  More significantly, they are both overweight now at 30 years old.  I wasn’t a ground-breaking athlete in college, but the way I ate and trained allowed me to get the most out of my limited genetics in soccer and lacrosse.

4.  You don’t have to play a varsity sport in college to compete in your sport. 
A college scholarship is often on the minds of many high school athletic participants.  Don’t get me wrong, getting school paid for is a huge financial burden off of ones shoulders.  Varsity college athletics is a tremendous experience as well.  If you refer, however, to the statistics, a college scholarship is not in the cards for everyone.  I’ve seen many a melt down after parents have spent money on club sports, a special collegiate athletic “liaison”, private lessons, etc., and not one scholarship offer comes to the table.  While this is frustrating, it’s a primary example as to why the “process” of athletics needs to be the focus.  Athletes should truly love the sport they are playing.  Nearly every college has large intramural programs as well as club sports.  Club sports can be very competitive, often travel across the U.S. and other countries is involved.  In addition, the time commitment for club sports in considerably less than varsity athletics. This allows athletes other pursuits in college such as studying abroad, getting job-related work experience, and other valuable life experiences.  If it happens, a college scholarship is great, if it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world!

Learn to use high school sports as a vehicle to live a long, happy, healthy life!

Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter. If you would like to sign up, you can do so by visiting, or use the contact form below: [easy-contact]

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