24 Jan The Myth of Sport Specific Training
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to work in both the strength training and skills-based realms of performance enhancement.
For those of you who read this blog blindly and only look at my shirtless pics, you probably have no clue what I do. So here’s a quick recap:
1.) I work as a strength coach to athletes and non-athletes at a gym in a small town Severna Park, MD. Arguably, this town could make a Housewives show.
2.) I run my own soccer academy for skills-based training – shooting technique, 1 v 1 strategy, Ronaldo skills, and first touch for ages 8-25. Basically, I’m an indirect soccer mom rearing kids into beasts.
3.) I fight off people with bad vibes.
So hand me a soccer player? I can get them strong *and* teach them skills-based flow of the beautiful game. And make them my new BFF.
Having both tricks of the trade – the strength training and skills knowledge – certainly makes me a well-rounded coach. A player needs help perfecting their shot? Let’s get strong first, then hone technique. More on this later. 🙂
Alas, being a package deal certainly comes with conflict and confusion, especially amongst parents. Common questions I get from the folks:
“So do you do sport specific training for soccer players?”
“Can you get Little Johnny to have a stronger throw-in with medicine ball work?”
“Can you make my kid faster with ladder drills?”
and the best one to date:
“Can you do soccer specific ACL injury prevention?”
Full disclosure: a lot of these questions make me want to shower in glass, or get kidnapped by Lord of the Rings orcs.
I do, however, want to play the part of the understanding strength-skills coach and shed light on the myth of sport specific training.
What Is Sport Specific?
Sport specific has been touted as a method of training that mimics a specific skill of one’s sport in the weight room. In the strength and conditioning world, coaches are pressured to train sport specific, especially because they have access to fancy tools and a weight room with endless possibilities for exercises.
However. Advanced equipment becomes more problematic than effective.
We do not need to strap a spontaneously combusting jetpack to a track athlete to get them to spring faster. Nor do we have to kick a canon ball to build a stronger soccer shot. Nor do we need a golf club tied to a set of chains to generate a more powerful swing. And we do not need a weighted ball attached to a sling shot to improve pitching speed.
Put simply, the more flashy tools we add, the quicker faulty motor patterns arise and skills-based mechanics go down the drain.
Preaching to the Choir
When we want to get better in our sport, we have to ask ourselves these questions:
“Do I want to get stronger and more explosive?”
“Do I want more awareness and better reaction time under pressure?”
“Do I want better footwork?”
“Do I want to improve coordination?”
“Do I want to perfect a certain skill?”
As an example, Little Johnny’s dad goes to his strength coach and asks for help with his son’s batting speed. The dad hands the coach a weighted baseball bat because he believes the added resistance will make a real bat seem lighter, thus turning Little Johnny into a Babe Ruth batting machine.
Instead of punching the parent, what would you do in this situation?
Sure, you could step on your exercise science and biomechanics soap box and reference every chapter of Supertraining, explaining that rate of force development is achieved in the weight room, batting speed is a product of acceleration times mass (aka strength), and skills technique is achieved through a trusted baseball professional who understands every corner of batting mechanics.
If Little Johnny is strong, then the problem lies within fine-tuning his technique. In this case, a skills-based coach must step in. So please, let the strength coach be. He’d much rather be watching Dora the Explorer than coming up with “pitching specific” work.
How To Survive the “Sport Specific” Myth
At the end of the day, we want to set our athletes up for success. Thankfully, in today’s day and age, youth and elite athletes have an arsenal of coaches to help them achieve their goals – strength coaches, skills coaches, team coaches, mental coaches…shit, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had how-to-survive-high-school-puberty coaches as well.
Kidding. Except I’m not.
Above all, discerning sport specific training from strength training is critical. The strength coach’s role is to get athletes stronger, more durable, and less prone to injury. In the other corner, the skills and team coaches help with improving the soccer kick, the bat swing, the running mechanics, the tennis serve. It is not our job to bring the court, field, or track into the weight room and duplicate these actions with obscure contraptions. That is why we have distinguished differences between Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists and licensed sports coaches.
Strength coaches don’t mimic skills in the weight room. Rather, they mimic movement patterns that will allow an athlete to enhance that specific skill.
As an example:
Skill: Shooting a soccer ball
Movement patterns: hip extension, hip flexion, core stability, transfer of force from lower extremity to core
Weight Room “Sport specific” exercises: dead lifts, hip thrusts, single leg hip bridges, plank progressions, psoas activation via hanging leg raises, medicine ball rotational slam, to name a few.
Ready for the kicker? (<–soccer pun intended)
What we do in the weight room is already “sport specific,” as we provide the fuel for athletes to execute movements on the field. Super groundbreaking, right?
Without strength, all the technique, sport specific work in the world would be counterproductive.
So with that said, shoutout to my fellow strength coaches. This article was written for you. I got your back.