We often receive questions of why and how we do what we do at SPARC. Our Middle School and High School Sports Performance program is one of our main offerings, and our goal is to educate parents, coaches, and athletes on the “SPARC difference”. We have a mission, a purpose, and scientific research shaping and supporting everything we do, and we hope to share the tangible benefits with every athlete that walks into our gym.

Our Mission

SPARC’s primary responsibility is to maximize performance and reduce injury prevalence for athletes in Athens and the surrounding area. We develop sports training solutions to improve body composition, movement, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. Our expert sports training professionals educate, empower, and encourage athletes to develop their full individual and athletic potential.  

Our Purpose

The Middle School and High School Sports Performance programs consist of athletic development training designed to enhance the core components of athleticism (i.e. functional movement, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, muscular endurance, reaction time, coordination, flexibility, and body composition) and reduce the risk of injury. The foundational components of the program are education and execution of proper movement patterns and training techniques. All training protocols take into consideration the age, physical development, and physical abilities of each youth athlete. While our goal is for all athletes to maximize their full athletic potential, we understand that not all youth athletes will go on to compete at the collegiate or professional level; therefore, the secondary goals of this program are for athletes to develop a lifelong love of physical training and experience encouragement from knowledgeable and caring coaches and comradery with other athletes.  

Our Philosophy

  • Coaching Philosophy
    • Educate
      • We teach proper movement pattern and skill execution to enhance athletic performance and reduce injury risk.
    • Empower
      • We equip our athletes with the knowledge, skills, and character to walk on to the competition field with strength, power, speed, and care for teammates and competitors.
    • Encourage
      • We motivate our athletes to always give their best attitude and effort in sport and life.
  • Training Philosophy
    • At SPARC, we subscribe to the Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model which is based on the findings that children will get active, stay active, and reach the their greatest sport achievement if they participate in the right types of activities and training during particular stages of development . Included in this model, is the understanding that early sport specialization may be detrimental to individuals reaching their greatest athletic potential. The model includes the following 7 stages associated with biological age and general, neural, and reproductive development (adapted from: Sport for Life Society 2016).
      • Stage 1- (Active Start) 0-6yrs: At this age, children need to simply engage in active play for fun (catch and throw a ball, kick a ball, run, and jump). Such activities help develop gross motor skills and brain development of agility, balance, coordination, and speed.
      • Stage 2- (Fundamentals) girls 6-8, boys 6-9: Early elementary children need to participate in a variety of more structured but still fun activities that develop basic skills with formal competition minimally introduced. Children should be introduced to a variety of sports throughout the year, while still allowing time for rest to avoid burnout and premature specialization.
      • Stage 3- (Learn to Train) girls 8-11, boys 9-12: Children in this stage can begin training in a more organized manner with a focus on general sports skills important for many activities. A greater amount of time should be spent on training and practicing skills rather than competing. It’s tempting to specialize in a sport or position at this age, but concentrating on one skill or activity should be avoided in most sports due to injury and burnout.
      • Stage 4- (Train to Train) girls 11-15, boys 12-16: The ages that define the Train to Train stage are based on the approximate onset and end of the adolescent growth spurt. At this stage, athletes are ready to unify their basic sport-specific skills and tactics. It is also a major stage for aerobic and strength development.
        • While athletes may exhibit special talent in a specific skill or position, it is important for individuals to continue training to maximize physical capabilities (endurance, strength, power, speed, agility).
      • Stage 5- (Train to Compete) girls 15-21, boys 16-23: This stage occurs late in high school and into the college years. Athletes specialize in one sport and training / competition becomes serious. Athletes must commit to a high-volume and high-intensity of training throughout the year. Training is organized and periodized for seasons and competitions. Other topics become important at this high level of competition including: nutrition, recovery, injury management, and sport psychology.
      • Stage 6- (Train to Win) girl 18+, boys 19+: The highest level of competition and training. A continuation of stage 5 in focus and training.
      • Stage 7- (Active for Life) any age: This is about staying active throughout all stages of life. Enjoying recreational activities and keeping the body moving.

Our Middle School and High School Sports Performance Program is designed for athletes in stages 4-5 of the LTAD. Our goal with the Middle School athletes is to help refine and consolidate movement patterns and general sport skills and continue to build strength, speed, and power as they move into High School and higher levels of competition. With all of this, our goal is to maximize athletic potential while preventing injury through well rounded programming.

In order to maximize performance, athletic potential, and injury prevention, we believe that strength and conditioning training must continue throughout the entirety of the competition year. Without consistency, we are unable to take advantage of the peak developmental years for strength, speed, and movement refinement acquisition.

In regards to off-season training, the goal of our program is to develop physical qualities (strength, power, endurance, speed, mobility, stability, and flexibility) to enhance the next competition season. This is achieved through progressive resistance and conditioning training. To see improvement in these physical qualities, the magnitude of the force applied must be sufficient enough to cause the body to adapt to the stress of physical effort. If the stress isn’t sufficient to overload the body, then no adaptation can occur. The off-season is the time to apply a sufficient amount of stress in the weight room when the demand of on field practice and performance are minimal.

During competition season, the goal of physical training is to maintain strength and power while not applying too much stress. We are not seeking high gains in strength during this time but look to maintain what was gained during the off-season.  Without the reinforcement of in-season training, athletes will often move to the end of the competition season with loss of strength and inefficient movement patterns, decreasing their performance and increasing their injury risk.

Sports Nutrition

Proper nutrition and hydration is essential for optimizing health and performance. No matter the sport, good nutrition can help improve training and competition performance, decrease recovery time, prevent exercise associated injuries due to fatigue, provide the fuel required during times of high-intensity training, and promote optimal body composition. Youth athletes are at a critical point in development and proper nutrition is vital not only for performance but also growth and maturation. Below are general nutrition guidelines for athletes ages 11-18 (adapted from: LK Purcell; Canadian Paediatric Society, Paediatric Sports and Exercise Medicine Section. Sport nutrition for young athletes. Pediatric Child Health 2013;18(2):200-202.)

  • The following recommended energy allowances are the minimum necessary to ensure proper growth and development. Extra calories are needed during growth spurts and to replenish energy expended during periods of higher intensity training and competition.

Recommended energy requirements, Kcal/day

Age (years)         Male          Female
    11-14         2500             2200
    15-18         3000             2200

Hoch AZ, Goossen K, Kretschmer T. Nutritional requirements of the

child and teenage athlete. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 2008;19(2):

373-98.

  • Carbohydrates provide the most important fuel source for athletes, because they are broken down to glucose used for energy. Carbohydrate should comprise 45-65% of total caloric intake for youth athletes. Good sources of carbohydrate include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, and yogurt.
  • Proteins build and repair muscles, skin, hair, and nails. While protein is not a main fuel source during exercise, it is vital for recovery and repair following exercise. Protein should comprise 10-30% of total caloric intake for youth athletes. Good sources of protein include: lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and legumes.
  • Fats are necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), to provide essential fatty acids, protect vital organs and provide insulation. Fat also provides the feeling of satiety. Fats should comprise 25% to 35% of total energy intake for youth athletes. Saturated fats should comprise no more than 10% of total energy intake. Good sources of fat include lean meat and poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and olive and canola oils. Fat from chips, candy, fried foods and baked goods should be minimized.
  • Encourage athletes to drink water throughout the day, especially 2 hours prior, during, and following practice and competition. For training or competition lasting longer than 60-minutes in hot, humid weather, encourage athletes to consume a sports drink to replace energy and electrolyte stores, and reduce fluid loss. Encourage youth athletes to avoid beverages with high sugar content (sodas and fruit juices) as they provide a large quantity of calories with minimal nutritional value.
  • To optimize glycogen stores for practice or competition, athletes should consume a small meal or snack 2 to 4-hours and as close as 1hour prior to exercise. This meal should be higher in carbohydrate and easily digestible (lower in fiber). This will help to minimize fatigue during exercise.
  • Following training or competition, athletes should consume a meal or snack within 30-45min. This meal or snack should have a mix of carbohydrate and protein for glycogen and muscle synthesis
  • At SPARC, we encourage athletes to obtain their nutrient requirements from whole food sources.  We treat supplements as they are named, a supplement to the diet. There are times when the use of protein powders may be beneficial if time or convenience is a concern, and are better than not eating anything at all. Here is a link to a list of supplements that have been tested and deemed clean and safe for use by athletes: http://www.informed-sport.com/

By: Lauren Higgins, M.S., CSCS, FMS-Level 1