Spartan Performance Provides Integrative Approach to Sports Science for Youth Athletes
MSU's Spartan Performance provides an evidence-based, interdisciplinary approach to research and outreach focused on optimal performance and well-being of the student-athlete. Dr. Joe Eisenmann and his staff at Spartan Performance frequently work with coaches and athletes throughout the mid-Michigan area, as well as nationally and internationally, applying research on the science of sports, physical activity, and nutrition to the needs of the community.
Last winter, Eisenmann began collaborating with Tom Hunt, athletic director of East Lansing High School, to bring an integrated training approach to the school's entire athletic program. An integrated approach, as provided by the Spartan Performance system, allows Hunt to ensure that his young athletes are receiving year-round comprehensive training, not only keeping them in optimal condition and health, but also reducing the risk of injury.
"My primary goal was to provide our student-athletes and coaches with a systematic approach to in- and off-season conditioning, injury prevention, and nutrition," said Hunt. "I wanted to make sure in-season athletes were maintaining the strength gains they made in the off season. I also wanted to reduce specialization in just one sport and let coaches know that general training is taking place even if their athletes are involved in other sports."
The collaboration is unique in that it is the first time an entire school athletic program, including 600 student-athletes and more than 40 coaches from 20 sports, is partnering with Spartan Performance. Since that time Spartan Performance has signed several partnership agreements with other schools and sports clubs in the mid-Michigan area.
"The partnership is part of a broader goal at Spartan Performance related to providing integrated sports performance to young athletes," said Eisenmann. "We have a strong clinical program where individual young athletes come to our facility on campus to be tested, trained, and energized, but we wanted to have a greater reach in the community. Establishing our program in the school allows for more athletes to participate in a holistic approach to athlete development including sports nutrition, training, mental skills development, injury prevention, and monitoring of athlete health."
Student Athlete Development
A primary concern for both Eisenmann and Hunt is that student-athletes are feeling pressured to begin specializing in a sport at increasingly younger ages, often dedicating many hours a week to that sport, increasing the risk of overuse injury and possibly burnout.
"Our student-athletes have academic, family, and work responsibilities," said Hunt. "A primary focus was to make sure that too much time isn't taken by athletics, and that the time is used more efficiently."
"Our approach allows for efficient optimization between coaches so that all athletes are being trained appropriately during the in-season and off-season," explained Eisenmann. "It's a year-round, coordinated approach. This keeps the athletes healthy, injury free, and in the position to perform their best at game time."
Over the summer, Eisenmann and his staff began working with the coaches at ELHS, studying the requirements of their teams through conversation and observation. They also conducted coaching education sessions to familiarize the coaches with the Spartan Performance system, and began training sessions with the student-athletes.
"During the summer, we held training sessions two days per week, and now during the academic year we have staff working with athletes and teams three times per week," said Eisenmann. "This may include dynamic warm up at practice, speed and agility, resistance training, sports nutrition talks, mental skill sessions, or recovery sessions. We are basically carrying out a program that is typically seen among elite collegiate and professional organizations."
Keeping Young Athletes Healthy, Performing Well and Offering Positive Sports Experiences
Eisenmann's interest in exercise science goes back to his days as a young athlete. "Without even knowing it, I probably became interested in pediatric exercise science and sports performance when I was a young athlete myself. I was always seeking ways to improve my performance, sometimes experimenting myself."
His "experimenting" became a lifelong pursuit. Since completing his Ph.D. at MSU in 2000, he developed his line of research through positions at several universities until landing back at MSU to work with Spartan Performance. "My research broadly covers the area of pediatric exercise science; just understanding what makes the young athlete tick helps me work with young athletes and educate coaches and my staff. Young people are not miniature adults and thus we need to take into consideration the age and maturity changes that occur in the body and how they function physiologically."
An integrated approach to sports performance not only looks at each aspect of an athlete's training, but also requires the cooperation of the whole team of sport performance specialists. "We need to put all the pieces of the athletic puzzle together," he said. "If one piece is not fitting well, then peak performance and health will not be realized. This also means that all the key stakeholders ranging from the coach to the sports performance specialist to the athletic trainer and team physician need to not exist as silos but as an integrated, inter-related team of experts that respectfully cooperate and provide world-class, evidence-based services to the athlete."
Through these kinds of partnerships, Eisenmann and Spartan Performance are impacting thousands of mid-Michigan athletes and their families and creating positive relationships with coaches and schools. "The ELHS coaches have been very receptive to partnering with us. I always tell the coaches and athletic directors that our goal is the same as theirs—keeping the young athlete healthy, performing well, and having a positive experience through youth sports."
Looking forward, Eisenmann is enthusiastic about the growing impact that Spartan Performance can have in the area of youth athletics and pediatric exercise science. "We have a very robust internship program that offers extensive hands-on experience along with rigorous academic standards. We are creating a unique model that has potential to be a national standard for education, community outreach, and research," he said.