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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > Coach's Box Newsletter > 2006 > Coach's Box - April 2006 > General Fitness and Conditioning

General Fitness and Conditioning


Volume 1, No. 4

   April 2006


General Fitness and Conditioning Made Fun Is the Foundation for Any Successful Athlete
By Chris Downs
Media Relations Manager
Little League International

James G. Ronai

Certified strength and conditioning specialist, athletic trainer, physical therapist, parent, coach – James G. Ronai has approached general conditioning and fitness in children from nearly every conceivable angle.

In 16 years of working with top intercollegiate and Olympic athletes, Mr. Ronai’s experience and research have made him a leading theorist in the development of programs aimed at balancing competitive success with an individual’s physical well being. No where else is this balance more tenuous than in the ever-changing realm of pediatric fitness.

“Everywhere you read, the number of children suffering from pediatric obesity is increasing at an alarming rate to the point that is has been called an epidemic by some experts,” Mr. Ronai, who holds a master’s degree in physical therapy and is a member of the USA Baseball Medical and Safety Advisory Committee, said. “These same experts, including myself, see conditioning as the equalizer in sports. You can build an athlete by offering kids athletic development activities that everyone can do, but as a coach you have to dress it in a way that makes it fun.”

Mr. Ronai has created a program designed to promote general athleticism and life-long healthy habits by re-introducing the fun back into youth sports. The initial concept for The Competitive Edge began to evolve in 1997, and was the result of the types of injuries that he assessed and deemed preventable.

Youth baseball pitchers, and later a wide assortment of young athletes, sought out Mr. Ronai’s expertise. From one spring season to the next, he saw his office fill up with baseball players ages 9-13 suffering from shoulder and arm problems as result of a lack of strength, balance and poor mechanics, or the easily-corrected afflictions of poor diet, lack of sleep or dehydration.

“My goal is to have every coach or youth sports league introduce young children to good health, exercise and fitness by having them find the tools that make it fun for kids to participate,” Mr. Ronai said. “I want to make it less intimidating by allowing all children to take part and have a good time with it. If the children have fun, then the next time they are faced with the opportunity to participate, they will.”

The foundation of Mr. Ronai’s program is what he calls, “The seven elements of athleticism.” They are: flexibility, strength, agility, speed, core balance, coordination and power. By participating in general exercise and athletic skill development, participants make the routine a part of their life.

The role of a parent, coach, mentor or manager is critical because these are the people who teach children how to listen and learn. They also reinforce the simple concept that it is quality, not quantity that has the broadest impact on success.

“The common denominator (for success) is assessing who you are working with,” Mr. Ronai said. “Realistically, what are the children able to do, and what do I want them to do. This is the common sense approach that is often overlooked.”

Mr. Ronai has served as youth sports coach for five years, and has two children, Matthew, 9; and Brian, 7, playing in the Orange, (Conn.) Little League program.

“It is my intent to empower children with enough knowledge that they will one day coach themselves, while teaching coaches how to identify an issue and give a simple command to correct it,” Mr. Ronai said. “Kids are not dumb. They can learn quickly and parents may not have the background to keep up with a child’s development. This program is as much for coaches and parents as it is kids.”

Looking at a typical 12-player baseball roster, Mr. Ronai said the physical fitness and skill level of the team can be measured on a bell-shape curve. There will be 15 percent that have above average fitness and skill, and 15 percent that are below average, but the 70 percent are simply somewhere in the average range.

To address the needs of all, the coach must insert elements into practice that are good for everybody. If you put such a program in place, Mr. Ronai said, you will make them a better athlete first, and that makes developing a better baseball player a lot easier.

“Children don’t understand what (such a program) is doing for them, but they know they’re having fun doing it,” Mr. Ronai said. “If you empower (the children) with an athletic foundation, you have a better player to coach, and have a raised their athletic ability, so now they can execute with athletic skill.”

For the 85 percent of children that have average or below athletic aptitude, a program that is fun for everyone has its obvious healthy athletic benefits, but the subtle social advantages also become essential as it bolsters the inclusion factor.

“Including a program like this as part of a team’s practices and pre-game routine may help to motivate a child to stay in baseball, even if they are not the best players,” Mr. Ronai said.

“I have never seen a 12-year-old baseball player sign a million-dollar contract,” he said. “Children play for fun and a sense of belonging. When a child feels included and part of the squad they will stick around – developmental (Little League) baseball does just that.”

Mr. Ronai is director of physical therapy and sports medicine at Rehabilitation Associates, Inc. in Milford, Conn. He is owner and director of The Competitive Edge program which focuses on strength, speed and conditioning programs, camps, seminars, and courses for individual athletes, teams, coaches and medical professionals.

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