The Essential Guide to Sport-Specific Training

guide to sport-specific training

Sport-specific training is a constant topic of discussion among athletes, parents, and coaches. For our team at Velocity, it comes up daily in settings from local performance centers to our coaches at Olympic training facilities.

While some performance coaches scoff at the idea of sport-specific training, we think it’s a great thing to discuss.

It just seems like commonsense after all.

  • It’s based on you competing in a sport.
  • You want to improve performance in that sport.
  • You have decided to spend time and energy on training other than sport/skills practice.
  • Therefore, it’s perfectly logical that it should be specific.

In this article we are going to cover the essential things you need to understand about sport-specific training. This includes:

  • Why you want sport specific training
  • What sport specific training is
  • Transfer of training
  • How sport-specificity affects Long term Athletic Development
  • How do you figure out what’s specific for your sport
  • Sport specific speed, strength, stamina and mobility

Why Do You Want Sport-Specific Training?

Whenever an athlete wants a training program, one of our key questions is: Why Do You Train?

It’s at the foundation of how Velocity approaches athletes. We need to understand an athlete’s WHY? Their deeper motivation.

How does this have anything to do with a specific training program?

Context and coaching

See, as coaches, our responsibility is to help guide you to the right solutions. If we don’t have any context to your question about sport-specific training, we are making assumptions.

Those assumptions could be wrong.

Do you want sport-specific training because you have potential in the sport and want to play at a high level? Some athletes are just trying to make their team or get playing time.

Maybe you want to train specifically so that you can reduce your risk of injury. Or perhaps you’ve had an injury and are trying to get back to your performance level before.

Perhaps you’ve tried some training that wasn’t “sport-specific” and you didn’t see results, or worse it had a negative effect on your game.

All of those goals may, in fact, require some type of sport-specific training. However, they are also different.

A coach needs to understand this. After all, when we look deeper, sport-specific training is really; your goal specific training.

If a coach doesn’t really understand your goals, then your training might be off target.

Most athletes seek sport-specific training to meet their sport-specific goals. If your coach doesn’t try to understand you and your goals, then they might be missing the mark.

That’s bad coaching.

So let’s start by redefining the underlying motivation for sport-specific training;

  • You want results in your sport.
  • You don’t want to waste time and effort on training that doesn’t contribute to those results.

The purpose of sport-specific training is to use training to effectively and efficiently reach your goals in the sport.


What Is Sport-Specific Training?

Since we know what the purpose of sport-specific training is; what is it?

When we discuss “sport-specific” we hear a lot of different concepts. Often it’s based on doing things that look like the sport. Drills that use the sports equipment; balls, bats, gloves, sticks, etc…

Other times it’s practicing sports skills with rubber bands on, wearing weight vests, or hooked up to bungee cords and devices.

At the elite level those ideas occasionally come up, but the discussion tends to get more straight to the point. Our Olympic teams and pro athletes want results. In their sport. Period.

swimming specific training
With a small margin of error in many elite sports, training has to be specific

Elite athletes face heavy physical and mental demands. The margin for error can be incredibly small. In some of our Olympic sports hundredths of a second are the difference between a Gold medal and not being on the podium at all.

An athlete facing that can’t waste time or energy. They can’t add wear and tear to their body if it doesn’t give them better results in return. Their coaches care about the same thing.

Sports specific training transfers to better performance, lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.


Transfer of Training

This brings us to the concept of “transfer of training” in sports. Is the training you are doing transferring to improved performance in your sport? Is it transferring to lower injury risks so you can be in the game competing? Is it helping to extend your career for more years?

Those are the questions that we ask of every component of training at the elite level. As an athlete has more years of training, this becomes harder and harder to achieve. This is related to their “window of opportunity” for different qualities.

Windows of Opportunity

An athlete’s opportunity to improve a skill or ability is not infinite. A human will never run 100mph or vertical jump 20 feet. There are limits to human performance. So let’s apply this concept to a physical ability. Sprinting.

To make our point let’s get a little extreme. A 3 year knows how to run. They won’t be that fast compared to an Olympic sprinter.

If we consider the Olympic sprinter near the top of human potential, then the 3 year has a huge window of opportunity to improve. The Olympian is nearing human limits, so their window of opportunity is very small.

usain bolt sprint start
An Olympian has developed to such a high level, their room for improvement is usually very small.

This concept has a profound effect on the transfer of training. At early levels, doing general things will bring big dividends. A soccer team of 8-year olds will improve their soccer skill just by becoming more coordinated. Doing things like skipping, jumping hoping and running will increase their basic athleticism.

They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport) from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.

General Athleticism Helps Young Athletes

That general athletic training also doesn’t overstress the body. It doesn’t limit the skill set being developed later. Maybe at 8, they are playing soccer, but by 10 they decide they like volleyball. That library of basic athletic movement skills can be drawn on for most sports.

However, that high-level athlete is entirely different. Just doing general skipping, jumping and hopping won’t improve their performance. Our Olympic athletes generally have a decade or more of training. Their window of opportunity to improve is much smaller than that 8-year old.

Sissoko Tottenham Hotspur
Fundamental athleticism is great to keep elite players functioning, but it won’t help them improve sports skills.

Whereas a little training effort may have lead to 75% sports improvement for the 8-year-old, the elite athlete has to put in a lot of work to even improve 1%.

They have to put in more effort, endure more wear and tear on their body and manage large emotional and mental stresses. There is no room for waste, so training becomes more and more specific. Sport-specific training is essential for efficiency and effectiveness at the elite level.


Long Term Athlete Development Model

Velocity employs a long term athletic development model that helps address the need for specificity. It builds specificity from the ground up through a foundation of athleticism. At the early stages, this provides the transfer of training without the repetitive stress and strain of high specificity.

As an athlete progresses, they continue to benefit from the transfer of training. They accomplish this by focusing on using different types of strength and building athletic movement skills. This gives them a larger library of skills to take to sports practice and put into their technical skills.

As they gain some additional training experience, they can start to become more specific to their sport, their position, and their individual needs.

Long term athletic development velocity programs

READ: How Elite Organizations Use A Long-Term Model To Build Champions

So, start at the start. To use an analogy, we don’t start future professional drivers in Formula 1 cars at age 8. It’s specific, just not effective. You start them on a far more basic type of car and track. Any young athlete training outside of their sports practice should employ an LTAD model of sport-specific training.

Athletes should progress from general to specific based on the years of training experience of the athlete.


Understanding Your Sport

As an athlete, you don’t have to be a sport scientist. Still, you should be learning about your sport as you train. Hopefully, you are getting that in part from your coaches. That means both your sport and performance coaches.

To determine what ISspecific to a sport we strive to understand sports. The Velocity High-Performance Team utilizes experts in performance, sports medicine, biomechanics, sports science, and more to determine this along with the sports coaches.

While there can be thousands of components to elite performance, they can be grouped into some big buckets to understand.

Sports Skills

When it comes to the actual competition, it’s the athlete’s technical and tactical skills that clearly rule the day.

Technical skills are what we typically think of as their sport skill. Dribbling a ball, executing a gymnastics routine or hitting the ball. These skills are developed through thousands of hours of deliberate practice.

wrestling sport-specific skills
Sport skills include both technical and tactical skills. For instance, a wrestler needs the skill to exact a move, but also needs to know when to choose that move and use it.

Tactical skills are the athlete’s abilities to judge and analyze elements of the game. It’s also their decision making in those moments.

Can the linebacker read the lineup of the opposition and the strategic situation to diagnose what play is most likely?

Can the rower recognize the other boat picking up the pace and consider the distance left and their own energy reserves?

Awareness of what’s happening, analyzing it, and making a strategic decision is an often under-appreciated skill in sports. However, it can make the difference between being a Hall of Famer and not even having a career.

Physical Abilities

When the sports skills are equal or close it may be physical skills that separate athletes. In fact, at some point, their ability to develop technical skills can be affected by their physical abilities.

For instance, consider a quarterback or pitcher trying to perfect their throwing technique for more velocity. As they work with sports coaches they may be trying to move through new ranges of motion for better movement efficiency. However, if their underlying mobility isn’t adequate, they won’t be able to execute that technical model.

The same could be true for strength or movement skills. Athletes need a foundation of physical abilities to build on. This is what we often refer to as “athleticism.”

Mindset

The third component of sports competition is the athlete’s mindset. We use this term to encompass their cognitive processes and brain’s physiological processing. When we ask world-class athletes and coaches how much of the game is mental, they typically respond anywhere from 50% – 99%.

nick foles
A winning mindset includes the resiliency to overcome obstacles.

Of course, you can’t win mentally if you don’t have sports skills or physical ability. What this tells us is that those things will lose importance if your mindset isn’t right.

With this model of performance, you can begin understanding what is needed in your sport.

You can begin looking at what you need as an individual to succeed. If sport-specific training is about achieving results in the sport, then you need to know what leads to success in the sport.

READ ABUT IT: Resiliency Is A Key Part of An Athlete’s Mindset. Here’s How To Build It.


Sports Training Is The Truest “Specific” Training

In the end, the thing that tends to increase your sports skills the most is playing and training your sport.

Now a lot of performance coaches hate to hear this, but it’s true. Playing your sport and training your technical and tactical sports skills is as specific as it gets.

However, there are often limits on this. Physically from energy systems and repetitive motion. Access to coaching time or field/court space. Weather. Ability to use deep focus on the same skills.

These are all things that can limit the ability of the athlete to just practice more for continued gain. When you cant do the sport more it makes sense that other training could help you get better.

Specific To Sport, Position or You?

So if we are talking about sport-specific training that is not just practicing the sport itself more

With the goal of improving performance, you need to start considering how specific to get. Is sport-specific training really enough?

For instance, a lineman and defensive back in football are both in the same sport. Do they have the same specific demands?

Not even close.

That’s an extreme example but it carries over into a lot of sports. Different positions may have some unique specific requirements.

Then we can take this further to be more specific. If we look at different players in the same position, they may have different styles. Let’s say the soccer forward who is all finesse and amazing moves versus the power player who relies on speed and jumping higher to win in the air. Same sport, same position, different styles.

Go a step further and we can start to look at your individual genetics and predisposition. What about your unique history of injuries and physical qualities. When that window of opportunity gets smaller, these things come into play.

In the end, the level of specificity in training is inverse to the level and training age of the athlete. The younger and more developmental the athletes, the more benefit from general training.

The more elite the athlete with years of training, the more specific training need to be.


Sport-Specific Training

We have already acknowledged that skills and tactics are best improved in sports practice. However, we are focused on determining what type of physical training will be the most specific for your sport.

Training that leads to better performance. Less injury. Longer careers.

So. what physical qualities are specific to any sport? Let’s start by defining some broad categories; speed, strength, stamina, mobility, and resiliency.

What Is Sport-Specific Speed?

Speed and agility are valued in almost every sport. To et specific, you can start understanding different aspects to speed in sports.

As you try to understand what makes speed specific to your sport you can start by thinking about how much of the movement is straight ahead versus laterally and diagonally?

That’s an important factor. Is there a lot of straight-ahead sprinting like a wide receiver in football or a soccer forward? Or is it more sideways or mixed movements? The type you see in sports like basketball and tennis as examples?

Athletes developing the fundamentals of acceleration at Velocity in Greenville, SC.

There is a lot of crossover in training these. It’s especially true at earlier stages of sports development, but as you go up in level the difference is greater and training techniques more specific.

How often do you change directions in your sport? That’s another way to determine your sport specific training needs. A player reacting to opponents or trying to lose them may make a lot of change of direction movements.

What Is Sport-Specific Strength?

Too often athletes think that strength is how much weight you can lift on a barbell. For an athlete, strength is so much more than that.

That big lift barbell strength is often useful and represents one type of strength. You need to understand that there are different types of strength and which you need in your sport.

Strength is simply the act of applying force. Applying force to the ground, ice or water. Force applied to your bike, bat, racquet or a ball. Applied force to move your bones and joints into different positions.

Strength not only moves you, but it also holds you together. Your muscles, fascia, and connective tissue use contraction to make you function. Strength protects you when you absorb impact. Impact from striking the ground when running. Internal stress from decelerating your arm after throwing or swinging the stick. Impact from opponents or landing on the ground.

Every Athlete Needs Strength

So EVERY athlete needs strength. The devil is in the details.

Strength is simply about generating and applying force. Athlete’s need to develop several types of general and sport-specific strength

Those details are about how fast it’s applied. The direction and motion. The muscle groups. And it’s the transition from one strength type to another. This is what defines strength for an athlete.

To help illustrate this, let’s consider the strength needed by an NFL lineman and a tennis player. Do both need to be strong?

Many people may jump to the conclusion that a lineman needs strength and a tennis player doesn’t. After all the lineman is pushing around another 300lb human who is really strong. The tennis player is only moving their body and swinging a little racquet.

If we are thinking in terms of something like a 400lb back squat this might be relatively accurate. That is what we would call Maximum Strength. The ability to contract slowly (compared to many sports movements) and at very high force levels.

The tennis player does need some of this strength type, but they also need to cover the court really quickly. The tennis player is lighter and goes side to side changing directions. Those changes are going to require more eccentric strength. The ability to absorb their momentum going one way, stop and go back the other.

This is also strength, but a different type. Sports generally requires multiple types of strength, with some more important than others. Strength training starts to become specific when you train for specific types of strength.

READ MORE: There are specific types of strength for athletes.

What Is Sport-Specific Stamina?

For many people, this may be one of the most obvious. A marathon runner needs different stamina than a 100m sprinter. The Olympic weightlifter has different energy needs than the 1500m freestyle swimmer.

It does get harder as we move to team sports and activities that are not steady-state or really short. The body essentially has 3 main energy pathways and it uses them in different ways for the sport.

To condition for this type of sport, we can train multiple energy systems together so it mimics the sport. At other times we focus on building up one more than others.

It’s not only sport-specific, but position, style of play and individual specific. Even in a sport like basketball, two teams may need very different conditioning based on their style. A high pressure or fast-break style will require different conditioning than a slower tempo, ball control focused team.

What Is Sport-Specific Mobility?

To produce your sports technical skills, your body needs to achieve certain body positions. You need to move your joints and muscles efficiently through specific ranges of motion.

If you are limited by the flexibility, stability or mobility of your body, you might not be able to effectively develop that sport skill.

Most people can understand the difference needed in mobility between an elite gymnast (huge mobility demands) compared to a cyclist (only a few specific areas need mobility).

During training, sport-specific mobility comes from more than only stretching certain areas. Even effective dynamic warm-ups and full range of motion strength training help.

mobility vs flexibility
Athletes need mobility, flexibility and stiffness in different amounts based on their sport.

RELATED: Mobility and flexibility are different. Athletes need to understand how.


How to Use Sport-Specific Training for You?

First of all, understand you are right to want sport-specific training. Which means reaching your goals and improving performance in a sport.

Why wouldn’t you want that?

Sports specific training transfers to better performance, lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.

Therefore, you need to find training that will get results and not waste your time and energy.

1. Your Athletic Development Level

  • That means to first consider your level. A young athlete will get an effective transfer from developing all-around athleticism. Start at the start if you haven’t been training for years.

2. Your Sport Demands – Speed, Strength, Stamina

  • Next, you need to understand what your sport demands. A good coach and performance system should actually help teach you this and guide you to a better understanding of your sport.

If you are training right, you’re going to see a lot of benefit for a long time. Moreover, this requires the right;

  • type of movements
  • strength qualities
  • energy systems development
  • needed mobility

3. Your Individual Needs

  • Finally, if you want to see benefits, your training needs to address your specific needs. If you’re slow, get faster. If you get injuries often, become more resilient physically.

This is particularly true when it comes to sport-specific strength training. Everyone can get stronger, but are you building the right type of strength? Do you know your own genetic disposition and what type of strength will help you on the field?

Sport-specific training is needed. Just make sure you know what that means and when. Ask questions to make sure your coaches do as well.

What Is Sports Specific Training?

what is sport specific training

Sport specific training is a constant topic of discussion among athletes, parents and coaches.  For the Performance Team at Velocity, the question of what is sport specific training comes up daily. It happens in local performance centers as well as with our coaches at Olympic training facilities.

When we discuss “sport specific” a lot of different ideas emerge.  Doings things that visually look similar to the sport are often called sport specific.  Maybe they are drills that use the sports equipment; balls, bats, gloves, sticks, etc… 

For others, they think of examples of like practicing sports skills with rubber bands on, wearing weight vests, or hooked up to bungee cords and devices.

Still, some coaches think of trying to duplicate the sport in the weight-room with the reps, weights, and muscles used.

So, with these competing ideas, what is sport specific?

Sport Specific Training for Elite Athletes

At the elite level there is a lot of talk about sport specific training. This isn’t just a discussion with developing athletes and their parents. 

Those examples of sport specific training do occasionally come up in our elite teams. However, the discussion tends to be more focused.  The administrators, coaches and athletes care about one thing; results.

swimming specific training
With a small margin of error in many elite sports, training has to be specific

The margin for error in elite sport can be incredibly small.  Hundredths of a second can be the difference between a Gold medal, and not being on the podium at all.

An athlete facing that can’t waste time or energy.  They can’t add wear and tear to their body if it doesn’t give them better results in return.

Sports specific training transfers to better performance, lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.

Transfer of Training

This brings us to the concept of “transfer of training” in sports.  Is the training you are doing transferring to improved performance in your sport? 

Is it transferring to lower injury risks so you can be in the game competing?

Is it helping to extend your career for more years?

Those are the questions that we ask of every component of training at the elite level.  As an athlete has more years of training, this becomes harder and harder to achieve.  This is related to their “window of opportunity” for different qualities.

Windows of Opportunity

An athlete’s opportunity to improve a skill or ability is not infinite.  A human will never run 100mph or vertical jump 20 feet.  There are limits to human performance.  So, lets’ apply this concept to a physical ability.  Sprinting.

To make our point let’s get a little extreme. 

A 3 year should know how to run.  Of course, they won’t be that fast compared to an Olympic sprinter.  

usain bolt sprint start
An Olympian has developed to such a high level, their room for improvement is usually very small.

If we consider the Olympic sprinter near the top of human potential, then the 3 year has a huge window of opportunity to improve.  The Olympian is nearing human limits, so their window of opportunity is very small.

This concept has a profound effect on the transfer of training.  At early level doing general things will bring big dividends. 

A soccer team of 8-year-olds will improve their soccer skill just by becoming more coordinated.  Doing things like skipping, jumping hoping and running will increase their basic athleticism.

They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport) from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.

Sissoko Tottenham Hotspur
Fundamental athleticism is great to keep elite players functioning, but it won’t help them improve sports skills.

That general athletic training also doesn’t overstress the body.  It doesn’t limit the skill set being developed later.   Maybe at 8 they are playing soccer, but by 10 they decide they like volleyball.  That library of basic athletic movement skills can be drawn on for most sports.

However, a professional player is entirely different.  Just doing general skipping, jumping and hopping won’t improve their performance. Our pro athletes generally have a decade or more of training.   Their window of opportunity to improve is much smaller than that 8-year old.

Whereas a little training effort may have lead to 75% sports improvement for the 8 year old, the elite athlete has to put in a lot of work to even improve 1%.

They have to put in more effort, endure more wear and tear on their body and manage large emotional and mental stresses. There is no room for waste, so training becomes more and more specific.  Sport specific training is essential for efficiency and effectiveness at the elite level.

Long Term Athlete Development Model

Velocity employs a long-term athletic development model that helps address the need for specificity.  It builds specificity from the ground up through a foundation of athleticism.  At the early stages this provides the transfer of training without the repetitive stress and strain of high specificity.

Long term athletic development velocity programs

As an athlete progresses, they continue to benefit from transfer of training by focusing on using different types of strength and building athletic movement skills.  This gives them a larger library of skills to take to sport practice and put into their technical skills.

As they gain some additional training experience, they can start to become more specific to their sport, their position and their individual needs.

How To Use Sport Specific Training

Start at the start.  To use an analogy, we don’t start future professional drivers in Formula 1 cars at age 8.  It is specific, just not very effective.  Any young athlete training outside of their sport practice should employ an LTAD model of sport specific training. 

Begin by building physical literacy and then basic athleticism. As the years of training increase, make the specific qualities more specific. Only at high levels should highly specialized training to mimic sports movement be used.

Progress from general to specific based on the years of training experience of the athlete.

RELATED CONTENT FOR YOU:

The Importance of In-Season Training: Part 3

Inseason Training

In part two of the ‘Importance of In-Season Training Installment,’ I discuss what happens to an athlete’s young body when they stop training. However, to re-cap, we must first revisit the main reasons why in-season training is so necessary.

  1. In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
  2. For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
  3. Research has shown that at the professional level in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
  4. Off-season and In-season training are akin to opening an ‘athletic bank account.’ The off-season is where athletes make the most ‘deposits’ in the form of strength training, conditioning, and physical preparation work. Competition is where athletes make the most ‘withdrawals.’ In-season training allows athletes to keep their bank accounts top-upped so that they don’t ‘run out of money’. When they become overdrawn it results in fatigue and potential injury.

Even though this post is not about scare tactics per se, examining point four further, is important. Athletes and parents alike need to understand what actually happens to their body when they stop training in-season.

READ: The Importance of In-Season Training, Part 1

READ: The Importance of In-Season Training, Part 2

Just Like Post Number One, If You Don’t Use it, You Do Lose It

In sport science, the technical term for loss of strength, power, speed, and conditioning is known as involution. In other words, when resistance and speed training stop, the body will, revert to its former self.

To illustrate, let’s consider where a young athlete’s performance gains derive from. Structured strength and conditioning training generates a host of physiological changes their body undergoes as a function of the training process. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Increased neural connections: Strength training is ‘brain training.’ By learning how to lift weights safely, an athlete can make better neural connections within the motor cortex of the brain. This creates better synapses as well, which leads to enhanced focus, and mental clarity. This is why so many studies have actually linked strength training to better grades and performance in the classroom as well!
  • Increased neuromuscular coordination: Like the brain, resistance training allows athletes to create new neural connections, which means more muscle is activated in the body to cut, jump, sprint, block, tackle, etc. as well as this muscle being activated in a more coordinated fashion. Strength training makes young athletes move better and with much higher degrees of muscular coordination.
  • Increased oxygen delivery to muscle tissue: Through conditioning and strength training, athletes are better able to uptake and use oxygen in the body, which fuels muscle contractile activity. In other words, they can run and compete at higher speeds without succumbing to fatigue!
  • Improved body composition: Weight training and conditioning leads to reductions in body-fat, which means athletes can move and compete more effectively and efficiently. Reductions in body-fat are linked with better health markers and declines in disease risk all-together.

Given the multitude of positive performance benefits, the problem with stopping training during the in-season is that all these incredible adaptations can become reversed! Yes, all those neural connections that the athlete made as a function of resistance training can become undone with time.

Hence involution can be seen as the technical term describing the physical processes outlined in part 2 of this installment, which is effectively what happens when an athlete begins to ‘spend money from their bank account’ without ‘depositing’ any more through in-season training.

The good news, however, even in as little as one session per week an athlete can maintain all the positive performance gains listed above!

Hence in-season training takes on an even higher degree of significance as it allows athletes and parents to ‘safe-guard’ all the hard work that went into a successful off-season program.

As a result of in-season training, it is now appropriate that the four essential ‘rules’ of in-season training are identified.

  1. Train heavy but at a reduced volume: Many athletes and even coaches mistakenly believe that athletes have no business lifting heavier weights in-season. Unfortunately, this attitude leads lots of athletes to sub-optimize their in-season program by lifting weights that aren’t heavy enough to make them better or even maintain the progress they’ve made up to this point in time in the season. Hence, involution can also happen if an athlete is lifting or training hard enough to stress their bodies! However, by doing fewer sets or even taking a little bit of weight off (i.e., not exceeding 85-90% of max-effort for a majority of a program) athletes are able to train hard, but not encounter the fatigue and soreness that will detract from the competition. Hence, training hard and smart through reduced volume represents a winning strategy!
  2. Focus on Recovery: As stated in a previous installment, the game can take a lot out of a young athlete’s body. Microtrauma, soreness, and dehydration can lead to significant performance decrements. Hence, focusing even more on sleep, nutrition, and hydration will go a long way toward recovering from the stresses of in-season training, competition, and practice.
  3. Address aches and pains before they become full-out injuries: The saying ‘no pain, no gain’ is as old-fashioned as the knee-high socks, and leather football helmets are worn by athletes when the saying first took hold. Truthfully, pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. If an athlete feels significant pain in the weight room or at practice, I tell them to seek out a qualified athletic training or sports medicine professional. Furthermore, a qualified coach will ensure athletes use exercises that minimize stress and strain on the joints during the in-season period, as ligaments and tendons take even longer to recover then muscles.
  4. Don’t Be Reluctant to ‘Live to Fight Another Day’: A standing rule I have for my athletes is that if they can’t go harder, pack it in. In other words, even with reduced training volumes, focused recovery efforts and exercise selections that minimize stress and strain on the joints, if they can’t put in 100% effort in the weight room then that is their body telling them they need to rest, so instead they should go home, recover, and try things again the next day. The most successful athletes are the ones who listen to their bodies and train hard and smart!

In closing, in-season training is one of the single most crucial time, and energy investments an athlete can make in ensuring continued success. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the superiority of in-season training to non-training, with research likewise showing that a lack of training leads to significant reductions in performance, as well as a simultaneous increase in injury risk. As a result, a robust in-season training program is one that allows athletes to continuously ‘top-up’ their ‘athletic bank account’ by utilizing a systematic approach that strikes the right balance between hard-work, intensity, and recovery.

If a young athlete is truly serious about gaining a performance edge that in-season training is simply non-negotiable.

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Why Do You Want Sport Specific Training?

Do You Want Sport Specific Training

The most common request we get from parents and athletes is for sport specific training. 

Now sometimes as professionals, we want to roll our eyes when we watch the latest Instagram post that is some guru doing “sport specific training.” 

Why?

Because just putting a stick in their hand or making them do their sport’s technical drill with a bungee cord is NOT sport specific training.

In fact, we aren’t against sport specific training at all. 

However, as professionals, we know there is a lot more to being sport specific than you may think. That’s why we ask: “Why Do You Want Sport Specific Training?”

We know because when we work with professionals and Olympians, the purpose tends to be specific…play better and WIN!

Why Do You Want Sport Specific Training?

Whenever an athlete wants a training program, one of our essential questions is: Why Do You Train?

It is one of the foundations of Velocity’s philosophy. We strive to understand every athlete’s WHY? What do they want to achieve in their sport? What do they want to feel? What are they willing to work for? 

What does this have to do with sport specific training? 

It’s important because it gives our coaches context.

Coaches have a responsibility to help guide you. We are trying to guide you to the solutions that will give you what you want. That’s why you come to us for help. Any coach who doesn’t seek to understand your goals isn’t a real coach.

If we don’t have any context to your question about sport specific training, we are making assumptions. 

Those assumptions could be wrong.

Do you want sport specific training because you have potential in the sport and want to play at a high level? Some athletes are just trying to make their team and get playing time.

Maybe you want to train specifically to reduce your risk of injury. Or perhaps you’ve had an injury and are trying to get back to your performance level before.

Perhaps you’ve tried some training that wasn’t “sport specific” and you didn’t see results, or worse it hurt your game.

All of these goals are different in ways. Even though a lot of the training may be the same for athletes in the same sport, some should be different. Different choices in training methods come from information such as those goals.

A coach needs to understand this.

Meeting Your Sport Specific Goals

Sport specific training is really; your goal specific training

If a coach doesn’t really understand your goals, then your training might be off target.

Athletes will generally seek sport specific training to meet their particular goals in the sport. If your coach doesn’t try to understand you and your goals, then they might be missing the mark. 

That’s not professional coaching. That’s lazy and ill-informed.

We start by redefining your underlying motivation for sport specific training; 

You want results in your sport. 

You don’t want to waste time and effort on training that doesn’t contribute to those results.

The purpose of sport specific training is to use training to effectively and efficiently reach your goals in the sport. 

Putting It Into Practice

To understand your goals and needs the first step for a coach is to ask. Coaches have to do more than just ask “what do you want?” Professionals know how to dig deeper and uncover what you want. We find where your motivation comes from.

Then we start to assess your level and current abilities to determine what level of specificity is best and how to deliver it.

WANT TO LEARN ABOUT TRAINING SPEED: The Ultimate Guide To Speed Training

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The Importance of In-Season Sports Performance Training: Part 2

Inseason Training

By: Tim Hanaway

Sports Performance Director, Velocity Norwood

In part one of this installment, I set the landscape as to why in-season training was so necessary for youth athletes. In a nutshell, the answer boils down to two main points:

  1. One, in-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
  2. for athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!

Nevertheless, in looking at the other effects of in-season training, or more specifically, a lack thereof, it is essential to note that lack of physical preparation during in-season periods often results in significant increases in injury rates.

For example, in a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a group of British researchers noted that when looking at in-season resistance training on youth professional soccer players, English Premier teams that employed in-season strength and conditioning programs with their athletes spent nearly $494,000 less on sports medicine costs than programs that did not use in-season strength training!

Furthermore, in using one of the teams from the research design as a case-study, the Premiership team in question rose their player availability to 95% (compared to other teams) meaning the coaches could basically pick from their best players throughout the season!

Finally, in adding even more metrics back to the original points listed in installment one of this article, performance metrics increased by as much as 5% when athletes trained as little as 1x per week, compared to nearly doubling (11.6%) when athletes trained 2x per week.

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As a result, the above findings highlight the fact that in-season training reduces the risk of injury drastically, while also providing coaches with the chance to field their best team at all times. Furthermore, athletes who participate in in-season strength training can actually improve their performances throughout the season anywhere between 5 and 12%!

Therefore, for athletes and coaches that are serious about taking team and individual performances to the next level, there is no substitution for in-season training.

Up to this point, in-season training for youth athletes has proved crucial for a multitude of reasons:

  • In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
  • For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
  • Research has shown that at the professional level, in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.

However, in spite of all these positive in-season gains, much confusion still exists with in-season training compared to off-season training! For instance, a question I get asked by parents often is “what is the difference?”

Understanding Your Bank Account

In providing an easy-to-understand analogy, I like to explain to parents that off-season training is very much like opening an ‘athletic savings account.’

With every resistance training, speed, agility, and conditioning session an athlete participates in during the off-season, the athlete is effectively depositing into their personal ‘athletic bank account,’ growing their own personal ‘spending’ power on the field, court or ice in the process.

In other words, off-season training is all about maximizing physical preparation. Given that here at Velocity we train our athletes for speed using our ‘Big Force, Short Time’ formula, using the off-season to build strength and power through resistance training and Olympic lifting allows our young athletes to change their bodies by improving coordination and re-training their nervous systems so that their muscles can produce more force in less time, resulting in quicker reaction times and more explosive skill execution.

As a consequence, the more training an athlete has in the off-season, the more physical ‘currency’ they can draw upon during the competitive season to maximize performance!

Hence, a robust off-season program is characterized by the following:

  • Strength and Power Training using full-body, free-weight movements
  • Speed & Agility Training o improve first-step quickness and top speed mechanics, to enhance coordination, multi-direction reaction times and straight-line speeds.
  • Conditioning Training to fuel performance and reduce recovery times so that athletes can go harder for longer.

Finally, because athletes performing off-season programs do not usually play as many competitive games means more significant time, attention, and detail can go into the off-season program.

How to Withdraw from an Athletic Bank Account But Not Go Broke In the Process!

Given that in-season training is all about putting as much physical preparation currency into an athlete’s ‘bank account,’ competition is where an athlete makes their withdrawals.

For example, every time an athlete goes hard in competition, their muscles and body break down a little bit due to a host of physical processes and microtraumas. Muscle soreness, for example, is often attributed to small microscopic tears in muscle cells that take time, hydration, and proper nutrition to heal.

When an athlete performs in-season training, they continue to ‘top-up’ their athletic bank account, meaning they can continue to go harder, for longer in the season. Athletes that fail to perform in-season training; on the other hand, effectively ‘run out of money,’ they don’t recover as well and instead become more susceptible to injury.

However, because in-season training needs to be balanced with competition means it is characterized by the following:

  • Less training volume: In other words, instead of doing 5 exercises, athletes might instead do 3 to preserve more energy.
  • Less focus on conditioning: Even though practices aren’t necessarily as intense, competitions still are so athletes in-season will condition but not to the same extent as in the off-season.
  • Less focus on speed and agility: Like conditioning, athletes can get plenty of agility and speed work during games and practices. However, certain times they won’t so supplementary speed and agility training will feature, albeit in a reduced format.

In closing, the main difference between off-season and in-season training primarily comes down to emphasis and volume. Like a savings account, off-season training allows athletes to open their own ‘athletic bank account’ of physical skill and preparation that they can withdrawal from all season long.

Failure to perform off-season training (opening the account) and maintain it with fresh deposits (in-season training) leads to significant reductions in sports ability. As a result, it is imperative that athletes train during the off-season and in-season to maximize performance, as well as make continued gains every year.

Is Youth Strength Training Safe?

Strength Training Is Injury Prevention

Who Is To Blame for Kevin Durant’s Injury: What We Can Learn About Injuries In Youth Sports

Kevin Durant's Injury To Achilles Tendon

In the immediate aftermath of the injuries to the Golden State Warriors, the finger was being pointed.  Being pointed with blame.  Whose fault is a major injury like the Achilles tendon rupture of Kevin Durant? 

However, instead of focusing on the chatter about blame, what can young athletes, their parents and coaches take away from this?

I’d say it’s responsibility and perspective.

Blame for Kevin Durant’s Injury

Whose fault is it?  After all it must be someone’s, right?

Maybe KD himself?

Is it the Golden State Warriors staff? The team’s coaches or management?

What about the press and sports talk media, or just plain old social media?

Opinions aren’t hard to come by right now.  Sports talk shows and twitter are pointing fingers.

In the end, 99% of these guesses (and that’s all they are unless you were part of that process) are clueless. 

Velocity Knows About Injury Decisions

We are routinely part of these decisions in elite sports around the world.  We’ve seen both sides.  We’ve been part of the team or organization and on the outside as independent consultants for players.  We’ve had to give depositions on player/ management issues.  We’ve seen teams that are trying to better protect players and one’s that are just trying to win now.

Velocity’s staff has trained KD himself in the off-season.

I’ve also personally watched an international player go down with an Achilles tear in our own training facility.  Devastating when it was just 6 months before the World Cup.  The player had no history, no symptoms. 

It made no sense.

Until we learned a few weeks later that several other of the national team players also had recent tendon and ligament injuries in a few weeks span.

Turns out, the team doc used a particular anti-malaria medication for a trip to a third world country.  That medication put them at a higher risk of that type of injury.  The players weren’t informed of the risk.  That’s not cool.

Sports Injuries Are Complex

So from our elite sport perspective, here’s what you should know when it comes to answers why it happened; it’s complex.

Nobody likes to hear that.  They want black/white answers and someone to blame.  There could be someone to blame, we don’t know from the outside.  More likely, it’s a complex mix of factors.

Diagnosing and managing injuries has many factors and we are dealing with humans who don’t all go through the same process.

Most of the people we know on the staff of NBA teams are good practitioners working hard to help their athletes.

Most athletes are trying to balance their competitive drive, social pressures and the goal of preserving their financial future.

The Responsibility For Preventing Injury

Players have to make choices about whether to play or not.  Although many people would paint athletes as spoiled, undeserving millionaires playing a kids game, that is an unjust portrayal. 

A player like KD loves the game.  He’s a competitor.  He wants to be competing on the biggest stage injured or not.  He want his team to win. 

He also wants to protect his family and their future.  He wants to protect his greatest asset, his athleticism, skill and body.

Injuries are part of sports and they are a threat to any athlete pro of amateur.  For talent pros and amateurs, injuries are a threat to financial stability from pro contracts, endorsements and college scholarships.  If you get hurt, you could lose it.

It’s also a threat to lifelong health and function.  Injuries can take a lifelong toll on your physical well-being.  They can threaten your enjoyment of a sport and physical activity.

So, on every level players need to also take responsibility for themselves.

RELATED: Here’s A Proven Way To Reduce Injury Risk

Athlete’s and Self Reliance

But any athlete can be responsible.  It’s one of the great lessons sports can help teach.

Of course this is different for a highly paid pro who comes to us and spends thousands of dollars on training, rehab, recovery and more.  That’s basically a business investment.

Want to play better and recover faster, be responsible and get to sleep. 

Want to be a little bit more fit or gain more muscle, eat better.

RELATED: The Most Important Strategy So Athletes Can Recover Better

In fact, this is one of the most rewarding things we see working with young athletes.  The choices they make, on their own to be self reliant.  Young men and women being proactive in their life.

Not blaming, and not waiting.  They start eating a little better at school.  They go out for that extra run on their own.  They put down their phone and go to bed a little earlier than their peers.

The types of injuries that struck Golden State were devastating.  The fear is that the team didn’t do enough (which appears unfounded from our knowledge).  This should be a reminder or wake-up call that you need to be responsible to take care of yourself. 

Don’t count only on your team, your staff, your school, etc…  Be proactive in taking steps to reduce your risk of injury.  Be proactive if injured in managing your treatment and recovery.

KD’s Decision To Play Injured

Whether or not the risk was worth it for KD to go into that game can truly only be answered by KD.  What was the importance of competing to win versus the risk of injury to his career? 

Did pressure from the media or team mates sway his decision?

Did he just want to be the hero?  The one we idolize in sports for overcoming pain and injury.

Even the most rational person would be hard pressed to not absorb some of that pressure.

We don’t know.

Young Athletes Need Perspective On Playing Injured

However, I’d like to see this as a lesson for young athletes.  For their parents and coaches. 

We are questioning if it was a good decision for him.  He’s an adult and one who has experience.  He has advisors and got outside opinions.  He’s won before and financially sound. 

Yet, too often, young athletes feel that same pressure.  Kids, high school and college players.  They don’t have the same experience tor wisdom to draw from.  They don’t have millions in the bank already.  They haven’t reached the pinnacle of their sport.

I’ve watched as we evaluated young athletes for functional after returning from injury.  They were clearly not ready to go back. 

But they did…

Because the parent really wanted them to overcome and play. 

Because a medical professional was negligent in confirming if this player was functional, didn’t and cleared them anyway. 

Because the team, teammates or even other parents pressured them.

Some of them were all right.  Some ended up with another surgery.

So how come there is so much outcry and questioning of KD’s decision, when we see young athletes risking so much all the time?

Let’s improve the conversation about risk.  Young athletes don’t have the perspective that parents and coaches should.  All of us can improve this.

What Next For Youth Sports Injuries

The injury to Kevin Durant is horrific and has made people speculate and talk about responsibility.  Let’s use this as an opportunity to expand the conversation about responsibility and perspective in youth sports injuries. 

There are serious risks when playing hurt and trying to compete when the body isn’t ready.  Every young athlete, coach and parent have a responsibility to truly consider this as well as being proactive in lowering the risk of injury.

Youth Sports Injury Resources:

Positive Coaching Alliance

Stop Sports Injuries

HealthyChildren.org

Very Well Family

Youth Speed Training Tips: Technical + Applied Drills

Tips for training speed in youth athletes
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  However, it’s much more than just drills.  How different drills are combined affects learning.  For youth speed training to carry over to the game you need to learn this tip in the video.

Velocity Speed Formula

Combining technical and applied drills is an important part of youth speed training.  It’s one way we make sure athletes can apply the speed in the game.  This is just one part of the Velocity Speed System.  It’s built on the science of biomechanics and motor learning.  Learn more about the Velocity Speed Formula

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide To Speed Training

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Optimal Range of Motion

Speed training drills: optimal range of motion
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force in the OPTIMAL RANGE OF MOTION

The range of motion your limbs and joints travel through while sprinting is a Goldilocks scenario; not too big, not too small, but just right.

If the limbs are traveling through too big a range of motion you may be wasting time and energy.

If the range is too small, you wont generate the power you need.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Optimal range of motion is developed by acquiring good motion through stretching and mobility work combined with dynamic mobility drills.  Below we have a few of the speed training drills that help athletes develop the optimal range of motion for sprinting.

Kneeling Arm Action Drill

This drill to reinforce arm action has been around for a long time.  The reason; it still helps athlete work on understanding the arm swing range of motion while running.  One of the keys is that you want athletes using this drill to feel good spinal alignment with relaxed shoulders and neck.

Use this drill through various speeds, push faster until form, coordination or body position start to suffer.  Then back the speed down and regain the form.  Make sure the motion is from the shoulder.  No “karate-chop” actions at the elbows.

Fast Leg Drill

There are many useful variations of the Fast Leg speed drill and multiple benefits.  The one we are focusing on here is the range of motion.  Specifically the range of motion when the leg recovers from behind the body and the thigh lifts in front.  The higher the thigh lift, the more power the drive down and back can be.

This drill breaks up the sprinting motion so athletes can focus on the technical aspects.  As always, great core posture is important.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to help athletes ability to apply force in the proper direction. These drills reinforce basics physics so athletes can accelerate faster.

RELATED: Velocity Coaches Favorite Speed Drills

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Proper Direction

Speed Training Drill for Proper Direction
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force in the Proper Direction

Force is a vector which means it has a direction as well as quantity.  Efficient and effective movement requires not just the right amount of force, but applied in the right direction.

Proper direction is achieved through the right motor pattern (technique) and the stability of the body to apply it that way.  When the structures of joints, muscles and tendons aren’t up to the task, we have what we call “energy leaks.”

Below we share 2 useful drills that help you develop your PROPER DIRECTION qualities.  These drills are designed to reinforce and help the athlete self-regulate the direction they apply force to the ground.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Harness Resisted Sprints for Acceleration

To accelerate an athlete need to apply more force horizontally.  Thats how they increase their movement velocity. This drill reinforces horizontal force application.

The harness allows additional horizontal force to be applied to the athlete. Using a belt, it’s applied near the center of mass to be more biomechanically correct.  As the athlete feels that added force, they will tend to automatically apply force in a more horizontal direction

 

Wall Drills

This is a classic speed training drill that has survived the test of time.

Trying to drive the legs backward and push into the wall reinforces the horizontal force direction for acceleration.

To project your center of mass in the air high enough for the rope to go around twice, you need to apply a big enough force.

It’s very effective but has a problem; it get boring quickly.  So make sure you use it as a prep or reinforcement drill.  Don’t do it for a long time.  It’s also bets used in quick contrast with a drill where the athlete gets to apply that force moving and reinforce the proper direction.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to help athletes ability to apply force in the proper direction. These drills reinforce basics physics so athletes can accelerate faster.

RELATED: Velocity Coaches Favorite Speed Drills

Velocity Speed Training Drills: Small Time

plyometric drills for speed
The Velocity Speed Formula (read more about it hereuses proven speed training drills to make athletes faster.  Whether its elite speed training or youth speed training, the Formula always has the same 4 parts;
  • Big Force
  • Small Time
  • Proper Direction
  • Optimal Range of Motion

Apply Force Faster for Speed

Below we share 2 useful drills that help you develop your SMALL TIME qualities.  In essence, these are plyometric drills.  Drills where you have a ground contact that stretched your muscles, followed quickly by a contraction of those same muscles.

One of the benefits of this type of plyometric action is that parts of your muscles act like springs.  When you land they compress.  When you push they spring back and help you.

This is what we term Reactive Strength and is key for any athlete that wants to be fast.

RELATED: Sport Specific Types of Strength

Hurdle Hop Speed Training Drills

Hurdle hops are a very popular drill for speed training with good reason; they are effective.  The key is to do them well.

When your goal is to develop your reactive abilities, you need to focus on getting off the ground quick.  At the same time, you need to apply force.  Make sure you try to really project your body high into the air on each.  The speed is on the ground contact, not the movement forward.

Jump Rope Double-Unders

This is a time tested classic for foot speed.  It’s hardly new, but it works.  It should be a fundamental piece of every youth speed training program.  It’s basically a plyometric drill for speed.

To project your center of mass in the air high enough for the rope to go around twice, you need to apply a big enough force.

If you don’t want to get smacked with the rope, you need to apply that force quickly.

Double-unders are what we call a “self-limiting drill’.  This means that you really can’t perform it with bad technique.  Maybe you can get a few in without doing it well, but to string them together you need good form.  You will be in the proper body position, have the right range of motion and have a small time on the ground.

Velocity Speed Formula

Both of these are important speed training drills to develop an athletes ability to apply force quickly. They are great plyometric drills that work.   Execute them explosively and with great body position to be effective. If you perform them well and often, you’ll see the results transfer to game speed.