Off-season training is the mold for a successful season. The term ‘practice makes perfect’ is tossed around to young athletes and Olympic gold medalists alike as motivational and instructive criticism. This is true, but modifying the over-used phrase just slightly transforms it to gold; perfect practice makes perfect.  Many crucial pieces of training must be put together to complete the long and tedious jig-saw puzzle of success. An advantageous first stepping stone is building a routine.

“Creating a game plan and being as clear as possible is the best way to go for results, motivation, and tracking,” says Scott White, certified personal trainer and nutritionist, “if you don't have a game plan that has the basics: assessment, program design, tracking, and making adjustments along the way. You are basically shooting darts in the dark.” An Optimal Performance Exercise Kinesiologist, White graduated from Arizona State with a BS in Kinesiology and International Sports Science Association certification and began his career in 1998 as a speed training specialist.

The first step in building your regular training regimen is figuring out what is being sought out. Set goals. Remember, this will differ between athletes. “Everything is based on each individual. All programs work to a degree though custom programs specific for that individual goals, sport, skills, mechanics, development, time, recovery, nutrition, and mental acuity,” says White, “[These] are things to take into consideration when creating a game plan for the athlete.” White is known for staying up to date on setting goals and general training knowledge.

 When attempting to establish goals, sit down with a coach, trainer or even parent to help knock those out. Keep in mind that these goals will serve as the ultimate driving force throughout the training period, both long and short term. Having physical goals like getting a certain time and a specific distance is just as important as setting the less commonly known mental goals. When setting physical goals, analyze past performances in meets and in practices and set an immediate goal like; ‘do an extra set of hill repeats’ or ‘don’t leave practice until a throw reaches a certain distance.’ Preparing goals such as these gives the athlete instant satisfaction and adds to his or her motivation. Redo these objectives immediately after achieving them, this will promote constant improvement. Also, create a few easier goals along with one or two that will be very difficult, but plausible. Now set the long term goal. Have as many necessary however, attempt to limit it to smaller number to narrow focus. Ideally, the athlete would designate focus to one or two primary long-term goals.

 After the physical goals have been set, the athlete should address mental goals. These can be trickier, take the time and discuss the athletes’ mental strengths and weaknesses. Ever have negative thoughts before a race? Ever have trouble getting motivated? Discuss these with a coach or trainer and have them help create these goals. Start simple. Begin by using cue words or phrases, when said aloud, flips the inner motivation switch from off to on. Introduce the athlete to straight forward positive-thinking exercises. For example, participate in a basic board game or anything that tests your intelligence or memory. Every mistake you make, focus on how many negative thoughts stream through your flustered mind. For every negative comment, place a piece of paper off to the side. Make goals to regularly partake in activities such as this, and consistently decrease your pile of negativity. 'The Antidote for Mental Meltdowns’ goes more in-depth on the mental aspect of training and provides other drills to increase mental strength.

Once the targets are set in place, decide how they will be hit. Bally Total Fitness personal trainer Alfred Hughes discusses the smartest, simplest way to approach a workout regimen.  “The program must be progressive, consistent, and safe, eliminating injury during the process.”  Hughes went on to relay the critical pieces a routine should consist of. Sports conditioning, nutrition and supplement education, spiritual/physiological growth and technical aspects of peak performance make up the list. Hughes believes that a balanced mixture of these aspects will result in optimal performance and the highest gain from an off-season training routine. 

White narrowed his focus to emerging athletes, specifically athletes looking to excel in track and field. “Running should start with mechanics, mechanics, and mechanics, creating proper biomechanics is essential for stress on the body, speed, and efficient movement. Learn how to do everything perfect then progress from there.”  White has worked with top collegiate track and field athletes along with nationally ranked soccer players, NBA athletes, Olympic medal winners and many others. He provided basic and affective drills for runners to begin their successful training routines. A-march, A-skip, B-skip, butt kicks and high knees are a few on the profoundly lengthy list.  More information can be found here where White and other professionals offer in-depth sports conditioning and training that result in optimal performance. Also, a demonstration of proper mechanical drills will appear on the site and will be a beneficial resource for emerging athletes.

During the training process, it’s obligatory to track your progress. Recording results provides the athlete with negative and positive constructive feedback about their regimen. It must be time sensitive,” said Hughes when asked about tracking results, “and sequenced to the important dates for future performances and their requirements. “It’s important to continuously track progress.  If goals are met, confidence will sky-rocket, resulting in even more desirable outcomes. If the athlete isn’t quite where the goals say he or she should be, that’s another motivating, driving force that will result in a step- up in performance. Hughes went on to discuss the tracking process, which should be sport specific and critical so peak performance can eventually be reached.  For each goal, create a table or chart and have a coach or parent regularly update results from every workout you participate in. Designate goals that are updated daily and others that are updated weekly, monthly and even annually if the goal and training is long-term.

It’s inevitable; difficulties with getting motivated will arise, even with cue words and positive thinking. Having a knowledgeable and energetic trainer that pushes and encourages the athlete along the way will decrease the frequency in this occurrence. Finding a coach that fits the bill is tough; White discussed the qualities to look for when looking for the right trainer. “Find someone that has credentials, proven track record that can assess the structural postural system while standing, running, and sprinting.” He also confessed that a quality trainer should be able to notify the athlete of his/her strengths and weaknesses so they can be constantly getting better.

There are always ways to individually promote consistent improvement. Stretching, eating properly, receiving deep tissue massages and regularly resting are simple necessities for successful training and optimal performance. It’s proven that creating muscle memory and familiarity in a workout greatly improves the chances of seeing sharpened and superior results.  “The more scientific and clear you can be with an athlete,” said White, when asked the importance of building a routine, “the higher chance their results go through the roof. There shouldn't be any stone unturned.”