Cabrini employs new conditioning program

Ron Brocato
SPORTS

Cabrini athletes are preparing their minds and bodies for competition through a multifaceted program that focuses on strength and conditioning and a holistic approach to sports psychology, physiology of the body, nutrition, facing adversity and leadership.

Cabrini’s strength and conditioning coach Ryan Hodkinson believes his school is the only one in the area utilizing such a sophisticated training method.

At the core of the training is a downloadable program called “TeamBuildr” that customizes workouts geared to the needs of the individual athlete. It tracks the user’s progress using built-in leaderboards and real-time charts.

Hodkinson, a graduate of the University of Brighton in England, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sport and exercise science. He became Cabrini’s head soccer coach in 2014.

He introduced the customized training system to prepare Cabrini athletes for competition and healthy lifestyles through a twice-weekly PE-4 class.

TeamBuildr is based on the theory that everything in exercise and training has to be understood in relation to the whole or the sum of its parts.

“We created the class to move away from workouts before school, and that allows our students more time to sleep,” Hodkinson explained. “The lack of adequate sleep has been strongly linked to increased injury risk and diminished cognitive performance. This class also provides us with the opportunity to spend some time working on other aspects of the athletes’ performance, such as sports psychology, nutrition and training physiology.”

He said the holistic approach makes the athletes aware of their competitive, emotional and intellectual qualities.

“The approach is to develop our athletes, as opposed to just worrying about the physical component, which is often neglected,” he said.

Hodkinson said the purpose is for the athletes to develop positive outcomes regarding how they think about themselves as persons, how they think about themselves as athletes and how they prepare themselves for competition.

“And, hopefully, this will lead them to prepare for tests or job interviews down the line,” Hodkinson said. “We’re trying to give them skills that don’t just relate to their particular sport.”

The first 15-20 minutes of each class involve directed instruction on one of the many aspects of the program.

As part of leadership development, students are asked to present brief, impromptu speeches that they would present to motivate teammates before a game.

Although their workouts are individually customized, the students accomplish the tasks in small teams, offering encouragement to each other.

“This time is about giving our athletes more tools to be able to help them succeed on and off the court or field,” Hodkinson said. “Currently we are working on techniques to reduce anxiety and methods to gain motivation. Students are given written assignments or reflections to complete weekly and are quizzed on each unit they complete as part of their overall grade.”

Updated weight room

Hodkinson’s main classroom is the newly renovated Cabrini weight room. It is equipped with new Olympic bars, rubber plates and high handle trap bars, as well as new safety squat bars. “These pieces of equipment allow our students to lift heavier weights safely with the lowest risk of possible injury,” he said.

Hodkinson was introduced to Teambuildr by its creator and quickly became an advocate after understanding how the platform works and how to achieve its ultimate results.

He uses it to map out Cabrini athletes’ individual training programs, which they can access from their iPad.

“Students perform a readiness questionnaire before every workout to assess measures such as sleep and mood. Our training program has different levels that students progress through depending on technical competency and strength,” Hodkinson noted.

“The focus of our training program is for students to master the fundamental movements, such as being able to squat and hinge before specializing to cater to individual needs.”

Mastering fundamentals is being lost on many young athletes, Hodkinson said.

“A big point of contention is that it seems our adolescent and pre-adolescent athletes play so much of their given sport, they lose a lot of physical development through playing,” he said. “So what we’re trying to do is to develop real competency in the athlete’s fundamental movements: how to squat, how to hinge, how to push, how to pull,” he said. “Our tiered system is geared toward understanding fundamentals.”

Hodkinson started a five-week summer training program for Cabrini athletes this year. It included athletes from every sport the school offers and members of the cheerleading and dance teams.

“We had a great turnout, and some of our sports coaches participated.

“The idea was to integrate all our athletes to know that they’re not just part of a particular sports team, but they’re part of the entire Cabrini family and its whole athletic program.”

Tulane University’s institute of Sports Medicine has been a key partner in the course.

“Part of our holistic approach to our student athletes’ development is hosting practitioners from Tulane quarterly who deliver talks on nutrition, psychology and sports-specific gynecology. Our most recent talk was from graduate students of the Goldring School of Culinary Medicine who showed our students how to make healthier food choices,” Hodkinson said.

How this translates to wins and losses will be interesting to monitor.

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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