Training domain: sport-specific or athlete-defined?

One needs to look at this topic from varied points of view and angles – from the perspective of the athletes, coaches, parents as well as strength and conditioning.

What is sport-specific training actually? Many coaches and parents pick a training mode for quicker results, but is that the right way? Athletes of the current generation embark on single-sports training at a very young age, rather than multi-sports, and this can lead to injuries through overuse in a specific sport. To name a few, lower-back injuries in young fast bowlers, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears in young fast bowlers, strains in football, and rotator cuff injuries in tennis, badminton and table tennis.

It is, hence, important for strength and conditioning coaches to adapt an athlete-specific ideology instead of holding on to the sport-specific mindset. Appropriate foundational strength and conditioning protocols need to imbibed at a very young age, with proper movement patterns in a multi-directional plane. At times, the athletes need to pull back and slow down to reach the next level, keeping the right processes and protocols in place.

Run faster and further

An understanding of sport- and athlete-specific training is necessary to derive the desired results. Personally, I feel that’s the missing link in the processes and protocols for peak performance. One needs to look at this topic from varied points of view and angles – from the perspective of the athletes, coaches, parents as well as strength and conditioning.

I’ll use India’s most popular game – cricket – as an example as many can connect with it easily.

Athletes’ perspective

The current younger generation is influenced by what it sees on social media. Skill-based drills, specific movements patterns, video analysis and workouts, with all components of fitness at one go, are eye-catching, but are they pertinent?

Many get carried away by videos of their heroes, coaches and trainers, with many likes and followers on social media. But the essential factor is imparting the athletes need-based training on and off the field with proper form and technique. Amateur athletes or beginners try to emulate what the professionals do after years of training. Trendy workouts might be the flavour of the season, but you have to be as crazy as a loon to get into advanced training with a good foundation.

Parents’ perspective

Most parents want their children to embark on the hardest, quickest, most complex patterns, like what the professionals do, and for them to become the strongest and fittest as soon as possible. But at the end of the day, he or she will not be the sharpest tool in the shed.

For example, let’s take a hard-working professional who is committed and dedicated, doing snatch and/or explosive plyometric work. Now imagine an amateur or beginner doing the same things. It’s a potential recipe for disaster and can lead to loads of problems in the long run.

Run faster and further — Part II

Parents need to ask some simple questions: is the training appropriate for the kids, in terms of the sport or skills required, to turn them into professional athletes? Barring a few cases, the parents’ perception of strength and conditioning training will be limited, but they do engage in designing the schedules due to varied reasons.

Coaches’ perspective

There are varied approaches to coaching. Many coaches proactively engage with the support staff and the athletes to derive the best at every phase. But many tire out their wards with no progression and development of technique. “Athlete-specific training vs skill-specific training” has no meaning in their dictionary.

All coaches wants results at the end of the day, but the methodology they use decides their level of success. Work needs to have a purpose to see results!

Strength coaches’ perspective

An individual athlete’s needs are like a thumb impression – unique and specialised. When a programme is athlete-specific, all the components of fitness needs to be included – for team sports, individual sports and specific skills.

Strength and conditioning coaches’ job is to train athletes to have better running and jumping/landing mechanics, and to develop strength/power in the weight room or outside – with or without the use of sports equipment. If an athlete is faster, stronger and more agile and efficient on the field, they will without a doubt deliver their best performance. Our goal is to help athletes prepare for their sport, not to replicate it.

The importance of communication between athletes and coaches

Keeping athletes engaged along with parents, coaches and the management needs specialised skills with sound theoretical and practical knowledge. The transfer of knowledge needs to be to the athlete first, and this in turn amplifies into sport- and skill-based procedures. How can we pull this off? In the following ways:

· Understanding the needs of the sport.

· Understanding the planes of movement for the sport and specific skills.

· Understanding the energy systems used in varied formats.

· Understanding movement mechanics in relation to distance travelled, play time, format and other factors.

· Understanding the needs of the season/offseason/preseason/in-season/post-season.

· The most important aspect is figuring out where the athlete fits into the above and designing a programme accordingly.

Designing speed/agility/strength to power-conversion mode will be different for different sports and skills. For example, unilateral plyometric jumps would benefit a fast bowler more than a table tennis player. Similarly, running three drills would help a batter more than badminton or tennis players. Varied lateral shuffle drills with specific distances would be a fit for racquet or field-based sports.

Different strokes for different folks is the mantra to be a successful strength and conditioning coach, and at the end of the day, his or her role is to make a player a better athlete with good foundational fitness with proper progression for peak performance at the professional level.

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