Competitive Conditioning for Long-Term Success

We’ve all seen movies about coaches making players run ridiculous distances to build mental toughness. While I’m all for distance running and the various benefits it provides, it is often overemphasized in conditioning settings. In my experience, it’s also less fun for kids. And while extended running may teach some mental toughness, it is rarely ever competitive. That’s why I generally opt for competitive conditioning over standard forms of running to end practice.

Playing tag is the best form of competitive conditioning. While you may imagine that a game of tag would wreak chaos on your disciplined practice, it’s quite easy to use tag as a more traditional conditioning exercise. There are several types of tag I like to use with young athletes.

The first variation of tag is the chase down. Two players line up with one partner 10-15 feet ahead of the other. The athlete that is ahead lies face down on the ground. The race begins as soon as the athlete lying on the ground starts to get up. The standing athlete must tag the lying athlete before they reach the end to win. If one athlete consistently beats the other, modify the drill so that they are closer or further apart. This is my favorite variation, and it’s amazing to see how much fun kids have, despite being winded.

Partner one sets up on the ground, while partner two lines up behind.

Partner one sets up on the ground, while partner two lines up behind.

The race begins once the partner on the ground starts.

The race begins once the partner on the ground starts.

I call the second variation the king crab. The whole team sets up in a defined square or circle of space. Everyone must stay in an athletic position the whole time (feet shoulder width apart, slight bend in the knees, chest up). Players can move however they would like, but will be disqualified if they break out of the athletic position.

To get a player out, an individual must tag them on the outside of the knee. Once all other players are tagged, the player left is king crab. The game should take roughly 3-5 minutes, but it can be made even shorter by making the space smaller. If it’s taking much longer than 5 minutes, consider narrowing the playing space. One key takeaway from this drill is that athletes should find that it’s best to side shuffle. This helps reinforce a fundamental athletic move in a competitive way.

Player one tags player two on the knees to get that player out.

Player one tags player two on the knees to get that player out.

Teaching kids how to compete in a healthy manner, whether it is in king crab or in an actual game, is the most important lesson we can instill in young athletes. Implementing conditioning it in a structured setting with specific drills not only makes conditioning more effective, it also provides a valuable opportunity to teach kids how to deal with the failure and success that can come from competition.

Quentin Stuart is a senior economics major at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is passionate about youth athletic development and has worked at gyms across the country where he has trained youth, college, and professional athletes. You can contact Quentin at [email protected]

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