The Poison to Athletic Development: Sport Specific Training

There is a tremendous amount of theories and ideas of what athletes truly need for optimal athletic performance. Parents commonly have it in their heads, that their child’s sport is unlike any other. “My son/daughter needs to improve his *fill in the blank* (hockey swing, vertical leap, pitch speed, etc.) so I need you to design a specific training protocol for them.” I am here to share a million dollar secret with you; all sports require the same thing! Shocking right? While this may sound crazy, I am here to tell you it really isn’t that far fetched.

After reading the title of this blog, you may be wondering what sports specific training means. Well folks, this is actually a specific type of training that ultimately takes people through identical movements used in sports, typically with resistance to the movement. This approach may make sense to some, but this is actually far from a beneficial training protocol, and here’s why.

When it comes to athletics, there is a distinct difference between sports skills coaches and athletic performance coaches. Sports skills coaches teach players the skill sets needed for the particular sport. Athletic performance coaches (strength and conditioning specialists) are responsible for making the athletes faster, stronger, more mobile, etc. What drives me crazy is when either of these types of specialists tries coaching the others responsibilities. I have seen this many times when football coaches “instantly” become strength and conditioning experts after watching a few videos on YouTube. You will NEVER catch me trying to perfect one of my athletes hockey shots, I am just not qualified or trained to do so. Now there are certain circumstances were a coach is qualified in both aspects of training, but this is very rare.

Sports require a multitude of various movements that are learned over time. These skills are taught during practice by repetitive learning. How to shoot a puck, a baseball pitch, a soccer kick, are all skills that are taught by sports skills coaches. I always laugh when I hear people talking about the “coolest” exercise that is guaranteed to increase the speed of their hockey shot. These exercises generally involve some type of weighted resistance that mimics the actual motion of a hockey shot. When on the ice, repeating the movement enables the neuromuscular system to develop learned“patterns” which are stored in your brain. When these movements are replicated with some type weighted resistance, the brain in a way questions if this is the actual movement. This confusion causes the the actual movement pattern to be compromised. Now for the question of the day; why would anyone want their sports skills compromised with sports specific training? This is the question that truly boggles my mind.

What athletes need isn’t all of these fancy exercises that mimic the movements they use in competition. They get more than enough of this on the court, on the field, on the ice etc.! What athletes need is fundamental strength training. Check out my past blog, Bringing Training Back to the Basics, that explains the importance of keeping training simple and avoiding all of the latest fads in the industry.

There is no difference between what a soccer player needs compared to a hockey player. A fast soccer player is the same as a fast hockey player, right? This is why I have to speak coach language and explain to the parents who want sport specific training for their son/daughter the brutal truth that what they actually just need is just to get stronger. Athletes who get stronger are in fact going to show a direct positive correlation to their sports skills. An athlete who has been able to strengthen their lower body WILL be able to jump higher.

 With this being said, I want to reiterate the point I am trying to get across, that sports specific training is inappropriate for athletes of all ages. The skills used in sport competition are learned at practice and fundamental strength training is done in the gym. Keep them separate for optimal athletic performance.

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