Size Changed The Game

Big Changes in the Game

I have coached high performance athletes for over 25 years and like most things, sports performance training has undergone many changes. The skill level of the athletes has improved tremendously, as well as the size of the athletes. The technology used in equipment manufacturing and at the club/ travel level contributed to athletes being bigger, faster and stronger.

While sport specific skills and quick athletes are still coveted, the bigger, faster, stronger mindset of the football recruiting arena is becoming more popular.

Injury Mitigation

Sports such as Lacrosse, Basketball and Soccer are contact sports and the training should include the training for overhead sports and contact sports. This would include exercises for the shoulders, neck, core, and hips.

Due to the year-round play, injuries will occur if the strength training is not on point. Many parents and coaches believe that game play experience is of more value than strength and conditioning. At least this is the case until their athlete(s) incur injuries. Dynamic sport strength training should involve direct shoulder work, along with exercises for the traps and upper back. The shoulders are involved with throwing and shooting mechanics, along with absorbing body and ground contact.

Below are accessory exercises, unilateral work, and mobility exercises to incorporate into the traditional sports performance programs.  The general tenets of sports performance will always be required. The traditional squat, bench press, and deadlift will always have a place in sports performance. While this article will not address it, powerlifting exercises are required as long as the shoulders and hips are protected from injury.

Neck Mobility

  • Neck Rotations: Keeping your head level, gradually turn your head to the right as far as you comfortably can looking over your right shoulder, and hold for ten seconds. Then slowly turn your head to the left looking over your left shoulder, and hold for another ten seconds. Repeat five times.
  • Neck Tilts: Tilt your head to the right bringing your right ear as close to your shoulder as possible, and hold for ten seconds. Do the same on the other side, tilting your head to the left, again holding for ten seconds. Repeat five times.
  • Neck Flexion and Extension: This is simply bending your head forward and back. Beginning in a neutral position, gradually bend your head forward, letting it hang with your chin close to your chest, and hold for ten seconds. Then slowly bring your head up and back so that you are looking at the ceiling. Repeat five times.
  • Lateral Neck Flexion and Extension: Same as above but begin with your chin as close to your shoulder as possible. Move chin to collarbone (flexion). Change to the opposite shoulder.

Shoulder Mobility

  • Around the Worlds Overhead Shrug: Using a six-foot PVC pipe or a defensive lacrosse handle, place hands as wide as possible. Moving in a “clock-wise” motion, bring your left hand with the pipe over your head. Bring the pipe to the back of your shoulders. Return the pipe to your front side by bringing your right hand with the pipe over your left shoulder.  Make sure to go counter-clockwise as well.
  • W-Wall Drill: Stand upright as flat as possible to a bare wall. Keep the back of your hands against the wall, above your shoulders close to your ears. With your elbows pressed against the wall along with the back of your hands (and without losing contact with the wall), move your hands as high and as close to your ribs as you can. 

Thoracic Spine Mobility

  • 6-Point Drill: Kneel in a position with hands, knees, and toes on the ground. Do not rest your shoelaces to the ground. Take the left hand to the left ear. Now try to bring your left elbow to your opposite elbow (right elbow /support side). Now bring your left elbow to the sky while keeping the elbow bent and left hand behind the left ear. Repeat with the right side.
  • Push/Pull: Holding a PVC with a lacrosse grip (over/under or pronated/supinated grip), pull your supinated hand holding the stick up and back while pushing your pronated hand across your body and up. Keep both arms fully extended. Repeat on the other side.

Hip Mobility

  • Stick Squat: While holding the stick for balance, keep your feet flat and toes pointed forward. Sit as deep as you can in an athletic stance.
  • Soccer Walk: Standing erect, raise one knee as high as you can while keeping your ankle dorsiflexed. Now move your up leg to outside.
  • Cossack Squat/Stretch: Using your stick for balance, step laterally with one foot. Sit deep to step side. Keep opposite leg extended and weight on your heel. Keep your hips back as far as possible.

D-Ankle — Dorsiflexion

  • Wall Pushes: Lean against a solid wall. Stagger your stance with your lead foot about six inches from the wall. Push against the wall while slowly driving your lead knee to the wall. Try to keep both feet flat on the floor. Repeat with other foot forward.
  • Heel Drops From a Step: Using a step or low box, drop the heel of one foot off of the step. Keep the other foot stable on the box. Slowly drop your heel as far as you can.
  • Lacrosse Ball Roll-Outs and Dorsiflexion: Sit on the floor with your legs extended. Place a lacrosse ball under one calve and roll your calve against the ball. Plantarflex and dorsiflex your ankle. Repeat with the other leg.

Band Work

  • Band Pull-Aparts (BPAs): Use a half-inch or smaller resistance band. Start with an overhand grip. Hold the band directly in front of your chest with your arms fully extended. Using your rear deltoids, retract your shoulder blades and separate your hands. Hold either one length or double band and do not have any elbow flexion.  Do sets of 20-25. Keep your eyes straight ahead and keep a neutral chin.  Be certain to try a double underhand grip as well.  
  • Face pulls: Secure a resistance band around a secure item such as a squat rack or fence post. Using an overhand grip, pull the band to your face, forehead, nose, or chin. You can also pull the band to your chest and waist. Try this both with your elbows raised parallel to the ground and with your elbows tight to your ribs. 
  • Alphabets—T, Y, and W: Using a resistance band looped around a secure item, make the shape of the letters T, Y, and W by changing your elbow position.

Unilateral Strength

Dynamic sports include running, but very little is straight-ahead running, combined with the lateral contact, and it becomes apparent that unilateral strength training must be added to all programming. 

  • 4-Way Lunges: Forward, reverse, and lateral left and right steps. Maintain a proper athletic stance throughout.
  • Step-Ups: maintaining a high chest and athletic posture—using predominantly the up leg—step up to the box. Use the opposite leg as well.
  • Split Squats: Starting in either a forward or reverse lunge position. Keep the chest high and slowly drop the rear knee to the ground. Repeat with opposite stance.
  • Single-Arm Kettlebell Swings: Keep feet in “athletic stance.” Feel the power created from the balls of the feet. Full extension is hand at eye level. Create a powerful hinge.
  • DB Shoulder Press: Try alternating DB presses too. Keep palms facing in for shoulder care.
  • 3-Way Dumbbell Circuit: Move through front raises, lateral raises, and bent over rear delt raises.
  • Dumbbell Clean and Press: Create power from your feet. Start in an athletic stance with the dumbbell between your feet. Think of this as a five-stage exercise. 1. Stance with hand gripping the DB. Rip the weight off the floor. 2. Catch the weight in the receiving position by tucking your elbow into your ribs and your thumb close to the front of your shoulder. 3. Reset into an upright standing position. 4. Dip your knees and hips creating the power source. 5. Drive the dumbbell straight overhead keeping the weight over your head and your bicep close to your ear. This exercise can be completed with the DB starting on the floor between your knees.
  • Dumbbell Snatch: Train for explosive strength. Start in the same stance as DB Clean and Press. In one motion, explode through the balls of your feet and pull the dumbbell off the floor to an overhead catch position. Keep the path of the dumbbell as close to your shirt as possible. Do not let the dumbbell swing away from your torso. I teach this as “baseball catcher into cheerleader.”


  • Box Jumps: Using a medium size box, 12’- 18’, perform two-foot take-off box jumps. Think “land lightly” and use your ankles, knees, and hips as shock absorbers. Make sure to fully extend knees and hips after landing squarely on the box.
  • Single-Leg Low Box Jumps: Use a 12’ or lower box. Perform a one-foot take-off and one-foot land. You can also try a one-foot take-off and two-foot landing on the box. 
  • Single-Leg Hurdle Hops: Using a low hurdle or drawn line, jump laterally over the obstacle using one foot. Do sets with both feet. Try to “stick the landing” and also rapid touch and jump. 
  • Jump Rope: Every athlete needs to jump rope!  Be creative. Try both one-foot and two-foot roping. Learn new foot patterns, too.  

Quickness Drills

Reacting to whistles/verbal cues:

  • Buzz: Have athlete buzz their feet in their athletic stance and sprint after the whistle or “GO” command. 
  • Bounce: The same drill as buzz, but have athletes bounce on the feet and then react to the cue.
  • Face Away: The same drill as above but athlete faces away, reacts to verbal command, turns, and runs.
  • Ball Drop: The same drill as above. But athlete reacts to ball being dropped.


Sports will always be about skills, speed, quickness, and agility. However, current strength programs must reflect that the game is now played with bigger bodies. These bigger bodies need to move like football wide receivers and defensive backs. Athletic performance training must also recognize that most sports are both technical and physical. In addition, there must be a scheduled “off-season,” where the athletes can recover, grow, and prepare.