An insufficient amount of time is spent during sport practices on specific, individualized athletic development. In my opinion, the best athletes have the most potential to be the best players. I do not think simply playing sports maximizes athletic development. I think proper instruction of sport fundamentals and mechanics utilizes and enhances athleticism, but a strong foundation of athletic training pre-season and during the season is the springboard to elite player development.
Prior to, and possibly including 8th grade, I think all players benefit from playing multiple sports. During and after 8th grade, playing multiple sports in school may or may not be the best option for those athletes who desire to be elite in a given sport. (See, Sport Specialization – A More Holistic and Realistic Perspective – April 2022) One of the factors which would definitely assist a player becoming elite in a sport is requiring all coaches in those sports to prioritize athletic development in their practice plans.
I think there are several reasons why many coaches do not do this. Many coaches prioritize winning games and championships and they are currently able to do so without training athleticism. Some coaches do not know why the best athletes have the most potential to be the best players. Those coaches may also lack the ability to look at their players and see the athletes, i.e., to mentally remove the implements out of the player’s hand and just recognize the flaws in the movement of the athlete’s body. They may not realize that the solution to flaws in the fundamentals of their players may not be in doing more sport skill drills, but may need to be first addressed as an athleticism deficiency in the player’s body, i.e., mobility, flexibility, stability, strength, power, speed or agility.
Many youth coaches do not have the education and training to teach the specifics of body movement even if they wanted to do so. Of those who do, most probably do not know how to program such training into their practice plans in a logical, kinetic, and ultimately, a sport-specific manner. Leagues should give them this education and training and should require that they use it on every team and, in every year, in a progressive, league-directed or supervised manner.
Many high school athletes erroneously assume and rely upon the playing of multiple sports year around to exclusively develop their athleticism. Most of the time, these players would improve much more by, for 4-5 months, doing non-traditional sports such as martial arts 2 days per week and training 3 days per week with a nationally certified strength and conditioning coach who is a movement specialist with a proven track record of training players in the athlete’s sport.
It is essential that coaches actually teach athleticism every day with the same individual attention to detail, monitoring, and accountability as they do with the sport skills. Coaches must train preparation, anticipation, and reaction, as well as, action. When doing these things, coaches and trainers must frequently integrate the use of the ball used in the player’s sport into the exercise.
Here are the aspects of athleticism that can and should be trained as a part of every practice:
- Body mobility, flexibility, and stability including ab/core development;
- Body movement, coordination, and synchronization in all planes of motion with an early and continuous emphasis on running form, agility, and explosiveness. Specifically, from the first year in youth sports, players should be taught to get progressively better at crawling, walking, marching, skipping, running, bounding, sprinting, backpedaling, jumping, hopping, and shuffling.
- Strength training to learn how to push, pull, squat, hinge, and carry beginning with body weight exercises and progressing to using bands, kettle bells, med balls, and weighted implements of all types.
- Speed, agility, balance, and Plyometrics using speed ladders, discs, cones, hurdles, boxes, jump rope, and Bosu Balls.
- All improvement should be individually assessed and periodically objectively verified, e.g., through technology or, at the least, with a stopwatch.
- Breathing before, during, and after exercise and competition.
- Visual acuity and mental focus and toughness