Strength Training for Youth Athletes & How Young Is Too Young to Lift with Micah Kurtz

Micah Kurtz

Tristan: All right welcome in everyone, we have with us on the line, right now, coach Micah Kurtz, hailing right now at least from Orlando, Florida where he's the assistant AD over there at Windermere Prep School. He also serves as a strength and conditioning consultant coach for the Oak Hill Academy. I'm sure you've heard of it once or twice. Coach, how we doing tonight?

Micah: I'm doing great, I'm doing great. I appreciate you guys having me on to talk with you guys. Definitely an honor for sure to connect with you guys and collaborate.

Tristan: Oh not a problem, let me start off here coach. Let's hear your story. Let's hear where you started. Let's hear where you went. Coming out of school, how'd you end up down in Florida? Where were you before? Tell us all about it.

Micah: Yeah, it's definitely a roundabout story for sure I'll try and keep it as short as possible, but I'm originally from upstate Buffalo, New York. Some of my biggest mentors, some of my biggest role models were my P.E. Teachers and coaches. So, at a relatively young age I knew I probably would not be a pro athlete, probably my junior...sophomore or junior year in high school, but definitely wanted to continue in the profession. Went and played small college football at Cortland State outside of Syracuse, New York, and majored in physical education. Wanted to follow in some of my role models that were my P.E. Teachers and coaches. After I finished playing and finished my degree, I end up getting a P.E. Teacher and coached football and basketball at Patterson High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Kind of became this cool defacto strength and conditioning coach just because I was, just got done playing a college sport, and young and kind of experienced what I thought, experienced in the weight room. He did that for two years and loved it and really saw my passion was I wanted to be a strength and conditioning coach. At the time really, my thought was "hey there's not really high school strength positions. I want to be a college strength coach." I knew to start as a college strength coach, I would have to start as a graduate assistant and ended up applying for G.A. Positions all over the country. One of the positions they had offered was at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. Took that position, had a great time, worked under some unbelievable strength coaches. Pat Moore, Billy Anderson, Dan Austin, some great strength coaches at University of South Carolina. As I was finishing up, I got approached by the former principal and former athletic Director at AC Flora High School in South Carolina to try and create the school's first time ever full-time strength and condition position at the high school. I thought I'd do it for a year or two and ended up staying there for nine years and had an unbelievable experience. We had a lot of success. A lot of it had to do with some great, hardworking athletes and some great coaches that I was able to work with. During my time there as well, one of my child best friends from high school or from childhood, Bryan Meagher was an assistant basketball coach at Oak Hill Academy and obviously like you said, everybody pretty much that's in the basketball world has heard of Oak Hill Academy. Extremely, extremely successful program, but they really don't have the funding to create a full time strength and conditioning position. So, just through working with them and consulting with them, and knowing them, I became the school's strength and conditioning consultant where I go up there every few months and do assessments, and write their programs, and stay in constant contact with them about their programming. So, I've been doing that the past eight years now, and just this past, I just finished up my first year. I left AC Flora, and through mutual connections, our Vice President of athletics at Windermere Prep here in Orlando, Florida became the school's Assistant athletic Director and Director of Sports Performance and work with all the athletes down here at Windermere Prep, and middle school through high school, design the programs, implement the programs. So I've been doing that full-time here for the past year, and also still continuing to work in a consulting role with Oak Hill. So, it's been an awesome experience. There's definitely no better level to work with than the high school level for sure.

Tristan: Yeah, and I'd say so, you said that you went to AC Flora and really just started the strength and conditioning program there. It obviously showed in terms of the success that team was able to have, and the success you were able to have. You were actually named the NSCA National Strength Coach of the Year. How do you get to that level of notoriety? Is it just from your team's success, or did you have to apply to this position? Did somebody have to submit your name? How do we get to be the NSCA National Strength Coach of the Year?

Micah: So really, so the NSCA Strength Coach of the Year, you need to be nominated by one of your peers. And then once you are nominated, there's a whole criteria listing of stuff that you have to send in to the review panel. They actually have a panel that selects who would be the strength coach of the year. So, basically you're reviewed on your contribution to the profession, like whether it's writing articles, presenting at conferences, anything like that you do as far as helping out the profession of strength and conditioning. And then, the coaches that you work with have to write nominations of their experiences working with you and then obviously the team's that you work with have to be successful as well. I would say that was probably. I've worked with some unbelievable coaches, some of my best friends. I've been blessed to be able to speak at conferences around the world and around the country, to give back to the profession, but I mean I think the biggest reason that I was nominated is because I've been blessed to work with some unbelievably hardworking athletes and some very successful teams, and very, very, very brilliant head coaches in their sports. So, their success and their hard work has been able to have me recognized in this profession. So I mean I definitely owe it to those athletes, and those coaches that I work with.

Tristan: Take it!

Craig: Yeah and no doubt about it.

Micah: Yeah, I'll take the award for sure though.

Craig: Yeah you got it, and as I was saying, no doubt about it, the results matter. Right, the results definitely matter. So, we follow you on social media, you know one thing that kind of jumps out, next to your name is, you've got a lot of letters, you've got a lot of certifications. Can you kind of tell us about your philosophy around those certifications? Give us some details behind that?

Micah: Well, I mean I think it's the coaches, any coach whether strength training coach or the sport coach, we're continually preaching to our athletes to continue to improve, continue to get better, continue to hone their craft, be a lifelong learner. So if we're preaching that to our athletes, I think we need to be an example of that as well to our athletes. So, especially the world in strength and conditioning. It is continually evolving, its new technology, new philosophies coming out daily. So, I want my athletes to know that they are getting the absolute best knowledge, the best coaching at all times, and the only way that they're really getting that is if I continue to evolve as a coach, continue to learn, and be a lifelong learner. The saying is 100% true. I don't know the exact saying, but I didn't know how much I didn't know until I continually started learning and going to conferences. You think you know everything, but the more conferences that you go to, you realize you really don't know that much and so, just in everyday and every year they add some letters to my name, add some certifications to my name, adding some knowledge to my programming. It's something that I take pride in because I want my athletes to know that they're getting the absolute best, and if not, the program that I gave them last year is not going to be the same program that I gave out this year. I'm continually trying to just give them the absolute best possible program out there.

Craig: Yeah it's important to invest in yourself and keep growing. Yeah, great philosophy for sure. Are there any of those certifications that you'd say you're kind of most proud of? And, then just a follow along question to that, do any of them kind of help you connect better with the youth athletes that you work with?

Micah: I would say, definitely the CSCS certification. They're the NCSF, the gold standard for strength and conditioning coaches. That's something that I it's a very difficult test to pass, so I'm definitely extremely honored to be a part of that. There's not that many coaches at any level that have this CSCS, so that's definitely kind of the one most distinctive designation, but as far as the other one, I just last month was able to get the certified functional strength coach certification by a Mike Boil. Who is one of the most renounced strength coaches. It was a great certification were whether you have been in the industry for a long time or you are relatively new strength coach. He gives you so much practical information on how you can just immediately take that back to your program and apply it to your program and to your athletes. That is something that was great that I just got in the last month. As far as connecting to my athletes I have picked up the Vertimax Coaches Certification about six months ago. All athlete whether they're basketball players, football players, soccer players they know about the Vertimax machine. If a facility has it they want to use it. Is it the end all be all for training. No, but it is a great tool to use in your training. Me being able to add that certification to my background it is definitely something that's help connect me with my athletes, cause now they not only we're going to be adding the Vertimax training into our programing, but now they know I am one of these specialists that has that certification. All the guys at Vertimax like Al Morales who is the CO they're unbelievable people they just want to give back to the profession there not just about selling the product. There about giving back to true coaches that are really trying to help the profession especially youth athletes. As far as your question I think that that is one my athletes immediately can resinate with. Coach is certified in Vertimax he knows what he is doing so they want to use the Vertimax for sure.

Tristan: Got it, so you mentioned there whether you are football, basketball, baseball, whatever sport it is you want to get that Vertimax. Now tell us how many sports right now at Windermere are you working with. Is it all football, baseball, basketball, is it all the teams do you lean more towards one or the other.

Micah: No, it's all the teams and its been an unbelievable first year. We've had some very successful sports teams generally. Probably our two most successful sports teams in the past have [inaudible] football and basketball team, obviously football and basketball are generally the sports especially at the high school level that are more indoctrinated into strengthening and conditioning.

Tristan: Sure.

Micah: They were very involved. My biggest agenda when I came to Windermere Prep was I wanted to expand our strength program to not just be with the football, basketball program, but to work with all of the sports. Especially our female athletes and its been a great first year. We have had great numbers and great commitment with all of our sports, but I would say our female athletes have really stood out. Where they had a drive and they don't gotta be in the weight room and dedicate themselves they're prove themselves athletically and their commitment level has stood out. I have no allegiance to one sport or the other.

Tristan: Got it.

Micah: My favorite athletes are my hardest working athletes I don't care if you're the best athlete in the school or the worst athlete in the school if you're the hardest workers you're definitely going to be one of my favorite athletes. We have had great commitment, but the female athletes have stood out. The first week of the summertime we gave them the week off of official work outs, but I was like "Hey we are going to have these open optional work outs these days." We probably had twice as many female athletes as male athletes and that's defiantly awesome to see, because there's still that stereotype that "Hey I am a female I shouldn't lift heavy weights I don't want to look like a guy." That stereotype it does not exist at Windermere Prep and it's something awesome to see. We talk about especially with our female alt we talk about strong hey the new skinny. There is no point in being skinny. We want to be strong. It doesn't matter if you are strong for a guy or strong for a girl. We just want to be strong so it has been awesome to see that for sure.

Can we coach them hard? Yes. Can we push them hard? Yes. But we’ve also got to make it a place that they enjoy coming to.

Craig: Tell us a little more about how you put together programs. So, when you're designing a program, do you have an outcome in mind? Say, a basketball team, they want to jump higher or a baseball player, they want stronger legs to pitch better. Do you have a specific outcome in mind when you're designing something?

Micah: That's a great question. So really, we have five core values for all of our athletes, whatever sport they play. That really shapes the programming for each sport and those core values. Number one, we want to protect the athlete. Everything that we deal with in our programming, in our strength and conditioning program is to protect them from getting injured in the sport that they play and then protect them from obviously getting injured in the weight room. So, depending, like you said, depending on the sport that they play, it could be different exercises to protect them according to the demands of their sport. For instance, if I talk about basketball players, basketball is a very interior dominated sport. They're very quick change of directions, very quick jumps, starts and stops. So, just by the nature of their sport, their building their quads up and in our programming and strength and conditioning, a lot of the times in the weight room, I really want to focus on their posterior strength, strengthen their hamstrings, strengthen their glutes, strengthen their lower back, to help prevent that injury. So, number one is protect the athlete. Number two, is that we want them to move well, especially at the high school level we're working with athletes that could be 13 years old all the way to 18 years old. So, its very challenging to program for at the high school level because you got to teach each individual athlete where they are. But first we want them to have great movement patterns, great fundamental movement patterns, good mobility and good stability. And then number three, it doesn't matter what sport they play we want them to move strong. If they can move well, have good mobility and good stability and they can get stronger, it's going to enhance that in any sport they play whether it's football, basketball, golf, tennis. If you do well and get stronger you're going to be a better athlete for sure especially at the high school level. Number four, again, doesn't matter what sport they play, we want them to move fast. Everything we're doing in our strength and conditioning program we're going to incorporate linear speed development, and change of direction and agility progressions in their programming. The last one, it's listed last but its definitely, I don't think, last, is I want them to thrive. Through our strength and conditioning program, I want to teach them how to become the best and getting better. That's something I think that they can carry over to every area of life. I tell them about that lot with our athletes, this is one of the most important things that they're going to do in hight school, and they're going to use it for the next fifty, sixty years of their life. Not just to be better athletes, not just to live a healthier lifestyle, but if they learn how to embrace the process of becoming the best and getting better, they're going to carry that over to all areas of life. Really the programming, we want to protect them, we want them to move well, we want them to move strong, we want them to move fast, and we want them to thrive. Then we adapt the programming again to the sport the play, and I talk about this all the time, I think that programming at the high school level is one of the most challenging levels versus college, professional, any level. Programming at the high school level is one most challenging levels because, again, I could have a 13 year old, I could have an 18 year old. I have to take in to account their developmental age, their birth age, their experience, their movement competency, the trust factor that I have with them. So we break our athletes down to four different groups that we progress them through a process to meet them at their goal. So I like to talk about our programming, it's unified with the whole thing being their athletic development goal but it's not uniform where we're all doing the exact same thing. There's going to be different levels according to their age, according to their strength level, according to the sport they play.

Tristan: Right, and you took the question right out of my mouth there. I was going to ask how do we really ensure the safety of these kids when they are maybe not fully developed or not in that developing stage yet. Is there an age that's too young to begin strength and conditioning?

Micah: Yeah, that's a great question. That's a question I get all the time, especially at the high school level. Parents or coaches, so everybody. It really, you can start strength training at any age, but really what people think about when they think about strength training is they think about lifting weights or putting a barbell on their back or loading them. You can strength train teaching toddlers fundamental movement patterns, teaching the proper body weight, while teaching a proper lunge, teaching a proper hip hitch, teaching a proper push up, pull up, row at any age where they're going to still continue to get stronger and their going to learn those proper fundamental movements patterns. Just because they're not lifting weights does not mean they're not strength training. You'll see a three year old getting a body weight squat and they're still loading themselves with that body weight they're still getting those fundamental patterns too. A five year old is running and jumping. That's still strength training. But, there's really no age that they can not start strength training, as far as loading them with an external load and especially a barbell. That's a loaded question as well because one thirteen year old can be at a completely different level than another thirteen year old. They could be at a different puberty level, developmental level. But as far as what we do, we do something called FASST F. A. S. S. T., it's an acronym for Future Athlete Speed and Strength Training. We've started our athletes as young as fifth grade to teach them those fundamental movement patterns, body weight squat, that body weight lunge, teaching them proper sprint techniques. Really breaking down agility change of direction and that's something that we do. My goal is they learn those proper movement patterns, proper technique, proper agility, proper jump and landing progression. Now they do that 5th, 6th, 7th, and by the end of their 8th grade year, you start to really indoctrinate that to the weight room. They're going to be that much more advanced because they're already going to understand those proper movement patterns, they're going to have good mobility, and they're going to be that much more advanced. But then you also get in to the factor where we don't want burn out. There's so much individual sport specialization. You talk about burn out and these kids being overworked with their parents. I want to teach these kids these great movement patterns, but I also want to teach them how to work hard as well, but I also want them to enjoy the process of training. I want it to be a place where they know they're going to work hard, but also it's going to be a place they enjoy. We minimize that burnout process. We just talked to our young athletes at FAAST just this morning about that "you're all at different levels, I don't care who has the biggest, farthest broad jump, the best thing about training, the best thing about the weight room, the best thing about strength, visually is the weights don't lie. What I mean by that is that if they're coming consistently and give maximum effort, you're going to get faster, you're going to get stronger, you're going to get more explosive. So, the reason were testing you in the broad jump right now is not to see who has the furthest broad jump. The reason for testing is because when we test you again at the end of the Summer, if you've come consistently and gave maximum effort, the odds are, your broad jump is gong to improve." So that's something that's great about strength and conditioning is that you can see that immediate improvement. Whereas, say, you're a volleyball player consistently going to practice you don't get that automatic number where you can say "hey I can tell I 100% improved in the game of volleyball." There's not that real set number, whereas as far as strength and conditioning you can say "hey I can see I had this broad jump 8 weeks ago, I've been driving, I've been working, my broad jumps gone up 6 inches." That's something that's awesome that it can be taught at any age and them just learning those principals of giving their best every day and being dedicated, again, it carries over to every area of life.

Craig: Yeah, great. A lot of principals to live by, honestly. And everything that you're talking about today. So here at Hustle we've got a lot of youth coaches that listen to the podcast. What advice do you have for youth coaches, especially coaches of younger kids? They want to encourage strength and conditioning and kind of build that type of program within the sport that they coach. What advice do you have for them?

Teach them the fundamental movement patterns of body weight squats, a lunge, a push up, a pull up.

Micah: Yeah, I would say 100% you don't need to complicate it. Teach them the fundamental movement patterns of body weight squats, a lunge, a push up, a pull up. Really get them to master the basics, strength techniques. Really focus on the ability to absorb force with landing progressions and deceleration progression. You don't need to get in to high level plyometrics, you don't need to load them obviously. You don't need to get in to all these fancy YouTube videos. Teach them to master the basics. Then, 100%, especially at the youth level, I'm talking about age 4th, 5th, 6th grade for sure. It needs to be a place, an all encompassing place where they enjoy coming to. Can you still pump push ups? Can you still coach them hard? Yes. But make it a place that they want to come to. Where its not a place where they dread coming to. It's not a place where they don't want to go to. Make it a place where they really feel at home, where they feel a sense of accomplishment, where they feel a sense of comradery, whether they're the best athlete or the worst athlete, make it a place where they enjoy coming to. Because again, they're completely different developmental levels. I remember this one little kid. He's older now, I think he's about to graduate college. He ended up being one of my all time best athletes at Oak Hill. He was a two time state speed and strength weight champion and he lived in the weight room. He would always come and help me coach our younger athletes. He talked about, he would talk to the younger athletes and he'd be like "Hey, I remember in 7th grade I got cut from our middle school football team. I was a little chubby kid. 8th grade year I was the last guy to make the middle school football team." He didn't play at all. He came to me in 9th grade for training. He was a great worker, he barely played on the freshman football team. He continued to work, he was a hard worker, but he was also probably late in getting his developmental process, his puberty level and developmental level. He played JV his 10th grade year. But then his 11th grade year he was varsity, he was a very good player. 12th grade year he was a captain, he was one of our best players. He ended up going to play college football. But if coaches had given up on him and like those coaches that had cut him, had wrote him off in middle school and made his experience terrible, like, what would have ever happened? Now he's graduating college, he's an exercise science major he wants to be in the field of strength and conditioning. Especially at the youth level it's very easy to be drawn towards your best athlete, your biggest and best athlete, but you never know where they are in developmental levels so I think we need to make it an all encompassing environment. Can we coach them hard? Yes. Can we push them hard? Yes. But we've also got to make it a place that they enjoy coming to, for sure.

Tristan: Exactly. That's a regular Michael Jordan story right there. Everyone always says, you know, he got cut from his freshman team and look where he ended up. So it can certainly happen with the right coaches in place with the right mindset to make you drive yourself forward. Coach Kurtz. Definitely appreciate the time here tonight. Before we let you go, we want to do something we do with all our coaches. We want to do a little rapid fire round. Just throw some questions at you, little catch and release action. And we'll just get right in to it. Sound good?

Micah: I love it. Let's go.

Tristan: All right here we go. We'll make it easy. First one: favorite sports movie of all time?

Micah: Favorite sports movie? I'm going to go He Got Game.

Craig: Good one. I like it. What's one mistake that players make in the off season that causes a set back coming in to the next year?

Micah: I would 100% think that when they think the off season is the off season and they think it's a time to rest. I mean, athletes are made in the off season and so if you're not training in the off season, then you're taking a step back for sure. So use the off season to become the best and getting better and really dedicate to improving your athleticism for sure coming from a strength and conditioning coach perspective.

Tristan: I love that. They think the off season's the off season. That's great. All right, next one here; say it's a Saturday morning, you don't have any coaching lessons or anything coming up that afternoon. You're trying to get your own work out in, you walk in to the gym. What's the first work out you're doing?

Micah: I'd say it's evolved over the years as I've gotten older. But I definitely want to still try and train a little bit like an athlete. So I'd say if you asked me that, 3, 4, 5 yeas ago, it would have been the hang cling. I love the cling. But as I've gotten a little older, I've backed off those a little bit, so now I'd say trap bar dead lift, which is still one of the staples of our program with my athletes and I think it's a great movement for athletes of all levels for sure.

Craig: A classic. No doubt about it. Last question here for rapid fire round. What's your favorite piece of technology that you use in your training?

Micah: Good question right there. I'm going to go with, we just picked up a few of these when I came down to Windermere Prep, and it's great for athletes for all levels. We use the TENDO units for venosity based training. I love to implement that especially with athletes of all levels because it gives them instant feedback. It gives them that tangible number where we talk about, they talk about a lot now in the training environment with new trends with this age of athletes. With the video game age of athletes, is trying to "gameify" training and "gameify" strength and conditioning. So the TENDO unit, if we're trying to talk to the athlete about moving the bar fast, we can say it as many times as we want. "Move the bar faster. Move the bar faster." But the TENDO unit gives them that immediate output and that tangible number of how fast they moved the bar. That's something that they're used to in the video game era. So now they give them that competitive aspect, say were doing hand clings and they move that bar 1.6 meters per second, and now that that's, I'm like, I want you to move it faster. They've got that immediate, tangible number that they see.Then say, hey I moved it 1.65 there. So it's something where they get that immediate feedback which I think is big especially in the era we are and the type of athlete and youth that we're dealing with are very technologically advanced.

Tristan: There you go. Gameification. Not the first time we've heard that one before at all. Well coach, again, appreciate the time tonight. Love the knowledge. You're a little different interview than we usually do. But definitely different aspect, I appreciate the time, again. It's Coach Micah Kurtz. You can find him online. On Twitter and Instagram there @KurtzM3. See his takes on the athletes today and see some of his own workout videos we'll be dropping. Coach I appreciate the time, again, and we'll catch you down the line. How's that sound?

Micah: Yeah, you guys are awesome. I appreciate you having me on and I'd love to be on again for sure. Keep up the great work.