With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games going, Coach Ken Vick hits an amazing mark. He’s now had athletes in eleven Olympic Games. It’s been across countries and sports, giving him a unique view of Olympic athletes.
A Diverse, Global Sports View
Ken Vick started as a performance coach almost three decades ago and worked with his first Olympic athlete preparing for the Sydney Olympic Games. Vick’s first exposure to Olympic athletes was as a coach in the sport of weightlifting.
“Olympic sports were always a passion for me. I was a Weightlifting coach for several international level lifters. The intensity and passion of athletes pursuing their Olympic dream is unique,” says Vick.
That passion continued as his career in sports performance progressed. He’s coached athletes that have gone on to 11 different Summer and Winter Olympic Games. And it is not just individual athletes he’s had experience with.
He’s also been the Global High-Performance Director for Velocity Sports Performance overseeing the training of national teams and even entire Olympic Committees.
Team Great Britain Volleyball needed to prepare for the 2012 London Games and Velocity was tasked with helping them in the year leading up to them. “Starting to see the differences in Olympic systems was revealing,” says Vick
The Chinese Olympic Committee had been a top nation in the medal count, but in 2013 they started working with Velocity in a few targeted sports and several of their provincial programs. A few years later Velocity had deployed its systems and staff of performance coaches and sports medicine specialists to the other side of the globe to prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“The experience of deploying Integrated Support Teams on the ground in China and advising their teams was incredible. There were incredible cultural and systemic differences, but we had a unique perspective on the athletes themselves. It really highlighted commonalities among elite performers,” comments Vick.
Velocity has worked with Olympic athletes in 32 different sports from 17 countries. This has provided Coach Vick with a unique perspective on what it takes to be an Olympian.
Myths About Olympians
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Olympic athletes. A lot of people will assume it’s all about genetics and talent. While that’s clearly a part, Coach Vick thinks there is much more.
Here are some of the myths he hears when talking about Olympians with others.
To Be An Olympian You Must Specialize Early
During any Olympics, it is common to see videos of the athlete in their sport. These stories of athletes starting their sport at a young age are often equated with early specialization. Meaning they start focusing on their sport and serious training at an early age.
There is no doubt some do. They find a passion for a sport they love early on.
In other parts of the world, athletes are almost entirely developed in national Olympic programs. These usually force them to specialize in one sport from a very early age. “I’ve worked with athletes in other countries who moved away to a regional training center and started getting paid by the age of 10 years old. Training day in and day out is almost all they’ve known for their whole life when they hit a high level,” shares Vick.
This approach derives from a nation trying to be efficient and targeted in building as many Olympic Champions as possible.
It’s also helpful in sports like figure skating and gymnastics where athletes have traditionally peaked at a young age.
The Multi-sport Olympian
However, many Olympic athletes actually play multiple sports for quite a while. According to a 2012 study by the US Olympic Committee, the majority of US Olympians played multiple sports into their teens.
According to Vick, there’s a reason why a diverse early sports experience are part of what it takes to be an Olympic athlete. “There’s a major downside to specializing early. It limits the overall athleticism of the athlete and puts repetitive mental and physical strain on an athlete early.” This can lead to injury and burnout.
“One of the very reasons we’ve worked in some other countries is to solve this problem. They have too many athletes achieving an elite level only to end up hurt and out of competition. The wear and tear on them from early specialization has been obvious to our sports medicine staff and the lack of overall developed athletic skills is clear to our performance coaches. They are clearly skilled in their sport, but they made too many with drawls and not enough deposits in their athleticism bank account, so to speak”
Olympians Are Fearless
Imagine walking out into a crowded stadium with the pressure to perform to perfection in a physically demanding event. You represent your family, community, and the nation whose colors you wear. All after a lifetime of training, sacrifice, and dreams.
For most mere mortals, this would overwhelm our ability to focus and cope. The stress and anxiety levels would be off the charts.
So to be an Olympic athlete you must not feel this way, right?
It’s not that Olympic athletes don’t have these feelings (and more), it is what they do with them.
Managing Fear and Anxiety
“Where ever I’ve been in the world, and in any sport, the top athletes learn how to manage these emotions. They have developed a perspective that makes it bearable. They embrace it as part of the process and maybe even something they can enjoy in some way.”
The training for many Olympic sports is a long grind. They are physically demanding, have little financial or technical support, and they are seen until the Olympics rolls around every 4 years.
What keeps them going? Optimism and enjoyment of the process.
“ I remember being in another country where the athletes were selected at a young age and moved away from home. Sport for them was a job and had been for most of their life. At the time the US women’s team was there training with them for a joint camp for two weeks.
On a training day, I was observing our performance coach and physical therapist getting the team ready. Most of the athletes in the training hall were sullen and lacked energy. Then we heard some noise. It slowly built from a low rumble into some music along with the sound of voices laughing and joking. The energy was clearly high. You could hear the positive vibes.
Then walks in the US squad. They had a spring in their step and smiles. They were enjoying the process even in the middle of a grinding training camp. One of the other athletes asked, why are they so happy. She lost that and though one of the top-ranked athletes in her sport, wouldn’t go on to make it to the Olympics.”
To handle the stress of competition and the grind of training, athletes need to have optimism they can improve and make it. This comes from their personal outlook and what they’ve experienced along the way.
Olympians Were Always Great At Their Sport
When someone ends up at the pinnacle of their sport it is easy to believe that they were always good at it. You’d think they were always the best from a young age and excelled. Turns out that’s not exactly the case.
“Yes, most athletes had some success at their sport early on. It’s part of why they decided to do it; because they were good at it or their family’s supported their effort. But that they were always the best and highest-ranked is false. In fact, evidence in a lot of sports shows that athletes who were junior champions, don’t make it to be elite or Olympic champions later. ”
Part of the reason is that development is not always linear. Whether it’s learning techniques, tactics, or physical development, there are periods where most athletes struggle.
Vick agrees, “The struggle itself might be part of what builds Olympians. Almost every Olympian I’ve know has had plateaus, obstacles, and setbacks. How they preserve and continue to work and learn, that’s the mark of a champion.”
One of the most common setbacks is injury. Whether minor or major, injury is a part of high-level sport. You cant push the human body to its limits of performance without occasionally going too far.
“Coming back from injuries is one of the biggest places we see that resilience is a required quality for Olympic athletes,” says Vick. “I’ve seen far too many high levels and extremely talented athletes who don’t have the mental, emotional, and physical grit to come back from injury”
More Than Just The Obvious
Vick concludes, “I think the biggest myth is that these are just genetically gifted and uniquely skilled athletes who are expressing their go-given talents. In fact, they are athletes who conquered a challenging path physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
And that’s part of why we are all so inspired by watching these Olympians.
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
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?
an athlete wants a training program, one of our key questions is: Why Do You
at the foundation of how Velocity approaches athletes. We need to understand an
athlete’s WHY? Their deeper motivation.
does this have anything to do with a specific training program?
Context and coaching
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.
assumptions could be wrong.
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.
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
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.
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.
let’s start by redefining the underlying motivation for sport-specific
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 is; what is sport-specific training?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 skills 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
To determine what IS specific 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.
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 skills. Dribbling a ball, executing a gymnastics routine or hitting the ball. These skills are developed through thousands of hours of deliberate practice.
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
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.
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
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%.
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.
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.
the end, the thing that tends to increase your sports skills the most is
playing and training your sport.
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.
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
To Sport, Position or You?
So if we are talking about sport-specific training that is
not just practicing the sport itself more
the goal of improving performance, you need to start considering how specific
to get. Is sport-specific training really
instance, a lineman and defensive back in football are both in the same sport.
Do they have the same specific demands?
an extreme example but it carries over into a lot of sports. Different
positions may have some unique specific requirements.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
and agility are valued in almost every
sport. To et specific, you can start understanding different aspects to speed
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?
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?
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.
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. Impacts 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
EVERY athlete needs strength. The devil is in the details.
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.
This is why the Velocity Strength Signature was developed. To help elite athletes understand what type of strength they needed to train.
help illustrate this, let’s consider the strength needed by an NFL lineman and
a tennis player. Do both need to be strong?
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.
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.
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.
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.
First of all, understand you are right to want sport-specific training. Which means reaching your goals and improving performance in a sport.
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
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,
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 benefits for a long time. Moreover, this requires the right;
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport)
from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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; yourgoal specific training.
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.
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:
One, 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!
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.
Call to Action:
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:
practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices,
which leads to drastic de-conditioning
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!
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
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
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
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
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.
By: Tim Hanaway – Sports Performance Director – Velocity Norwood
Strength, in my opinion, is the single most important physical attribute that an athlete can possess as strength is literally the precursor to all forms of athleticism. Want to get instantly faster, more agile, quicker, more explosive, and maintain more endurance? Strength training will significantly enhance all of them. Adopting a ground-based, functional strength-training program that utilizes upper and lower-body, compound movements is genuinely the key to athletic success and longevity in my humble opinion.
The biggest challenge with strength and power training is that all the amazing benefits we associate with it from a scientific standpoint (i.e. increases in force production, speed of muscle contractions, inter-muscular coordination, enhanced ground-reaction time, etc.) are in fact reversible. Yes, you read that, right! All the hard work and performance gains an athlete makes during the off-season, or pre-season can, in fact, go away when this type of training is not maintained for prolonged periods.
The realities of In-season:
The above fact is one that I find often takes young parents and athletes by surprise. “How could this be?” A father might ask, as they then explain that their son or daughter plays for 2 travel teams, a rec team and their school team. “Surely, all that practice and hard-work would go a long way towards enhancing fitness?”
The truth is that more often than not, practices are simply not focused or intense enough in-season to stress a young athlete’s body to develop or maintain strength or fitness levels.
To illustrate this point, let me give you some perspective: A head coach is more often than not focused on their own “one thing” during the season, which is winning. Simply put, priorities change once the season starts! Head coaches are instead more focused on tactics, plays and improving all the areas of need highlighted in the previous week’s game, compared to fitness and strength gains.
In using basketball as an example, if the team didn’t get enough rebounds during the last game, you better believe the coach is going to have the athletes perform lots of ‘box out’ drills in order to re-enforce technique and try to remedy the situation. Likewise, if the team’s offense wasn’t functioning properly, chances are that same coach is going to spend a significant amount of time in practice that week walking through/going over all the plays at a moderate pace/intensity in order to “iron out the kinks” and fix any confusion.
So what does this mean from an observational/practical standpoint? Well, it most likely means that the 5 starters on the team will go through the plays at a moderate intensity (at best), with the remaining 10 players standing around and watching from the sideline for prolonged periods of time. Yes, the truth is, go to any team practice in-season and chances are that you are going to witness a significant amount of standing around, talking, and direction from the coach, with much less time dedicated to all-out scrimmages or drills attempting to simulate game-day conditions, compared to pre-season activity. This same trend is far from uncommon and readily identified within a scientific study conducted by Wellman and colleagues (2007) that looked to compare the differences between pre-season and in-season practices and game-times among NCAA Division I football players.
The fact is, whether discussing the height of collegiate sport or your average middle-school or high school team, studies like this one show that athletes simply do not experience the same kind of workloads during the in-season period compared to pre-season, as much more time is instead dedicated to tactics. So, what is the outcome of this rather apparent paradox if an athlete is no longer strength and power training, while simultaneously experiencing even less fitness training within a typical in-season practice?
In a study performed on elite male rugby and football players, McMaster and colleagues (2013) found that strength levels have a tendency to decrease after a three-week period when no form of strength activity is maintained. In addition, according to Meylan and colleagues (2013), the decay rates of strength parameters for youth athletes can show an even more marked difference, especially for those athletes who have not yet hit their growth spurt. According to the researchers, these athletes lost more strength and forgot it even quicker compared to their peers who have had already hit their growth spurt!
The Good News:
As dismaying as this information may be, the good news is that there are some very practical solutions that athletes can undertake in order to mitigate the negative effects of the paradoxical in-season strength and fitness loss. For example, If the mantra ‘use it or lose it’ is clearly relevant in this case, the simple solution, of course, is to ‘use it’ by strength training in-season! However, in speaking with the same parent from the above example that is already questioning how they could possibly train 4x per week in-season when they are already juggling so much between the numerous teams and practices their son/daughter is already participating in, the good news is that you do not need to train nearly as long or as frequently in-season in order to maintain all the performance gains made in the off or pre-season!
To illustrate, in a study conducted on male handball players (Hermassi et al. 2017), researchers found that in as little as two sessions per week athletes were able to maintain their performance gains, while another study found that so long as intensity was kept high, athletes (in this case rowers) were able to maintain their performance gains in as little as one session per week (Bell et al. 1993).
Call to Action:
So now that the negative effects of training cessation have been presented, and the fact that as little as one session per week can effectively maintain strength and fitness gains throughout the course of a season, the question beckons, what can you do to safeguard and maximize your son or daughter’s performance gains?
The answer is
Maintain an in-season strength and conditioning routine that can be executed in a little as one hour per week.
Our experience – and the experience of the athletes who train with us – confirms that this is all it takes to make sure they finish the season just as strong as they were at the start. In addition to meaning these athletes perform well during the season it also means that their strength improvements do not have to be regained at the end of each season, effectively accelerating their performance at a rate greater than their peers.
Bell, G. J., Syrotuik, D. G., Attwood, K., & Quinney, H. A. (1993). Maintenance of Strength Gains While Performing Endurance Training in Oarswomen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology,18(1), 104-115. doi:10.1139/h93-010
social media training gurus, movement ninjas, and speed wizards, in youth
You’re doing yourself and so many young athletes a disservice. Hurting kids. Ruining athleticism. You’re embarrassing a profession. It needs to stop.
I can’t look at social media without seeing it. The cool looking video clip with a shredded, athletic 20 year old. They’re doing this combination of fast, athletic looking movements. It is impressive. It gets lots of likes.
Unfortunately, it’s also a total waste of time. It’s teaching the wrong movement patterns and actually puts that young athlete at a higher risk of injury.
hey, it looked really cool.
they start offering their “training” expertise to others and charging for it.
the problem is not him, or his tribe in the fantasy world of social media. It’s
us in the profession and it’s the very parents being
Sure, they can do some awesome combinations of movements, plyo drills, yoga moves, gymnastics and whatever. Looking good in little, to no clothing is a pre-requisite as well. They take great videos and selfies in the gym, at the field and places you want to be.
it’s inspirational. That’s ok. Sometimes its educational, and that’s good too.
But what about when people start listening to them and
trusting them with their health or performance?
Does that person actually have an education? Are they qualified? Do they know when they aren’t qualified and to refer to a professional?
Have they put in some years of doing it, apprenticing under masters of the craft and making the mistakes we all do along the way?
these social media training experts aren’t necessarily
bad people. But we are letting too many unqualified, uneducated and
inexperienced ones doing damage.
professionals, too many of us let them get away with it. We shake our heads, or
we just laugh at them behind their
backs. We know that some might mean well, but they don’t see the danger.
The danger of misleading people
to trust that they have real knowledge and understanding of health, fitness or
performance. The time, money and effort people may
waste under their direction. The violated trust of a coach to an athlete.
worst of all, the real danger of injury caused by these gurus ignorance. That
lack of understanding of biomechanics, injury, adolescent physiology.
why do parents settle for it? Sure it’s inspiring to see the picture and videos
of workouts and drills. It’s hard to know how to find a good coach. But why are
you trusting your kids health to this person?
Next time you encounter a social media expert, speed guru, kettlebell rockstar, or former athlete, ask them to prove they are qualified to guide your and influence your child!
Do you just trust your kid to anyone who looks good on social media?
you choose your airline pilot by their awesome social media profile? “Hey, I’ve
only flown a Microsoft flight simulator once before, but don’t I look good as a
jumbo jet pilot? Come fly with me!”
parents continue to feed the growing trend, by wasting their money without
checking that these people know what they are talking about. More growth for
the mythical social gurus and self-titled experts.
all over out there. Social media experts
expounding knowledge and answers. Yet
they are still in school (if they even went) or in their first job. They didn’t apprentice or learn their craft. No formal training. Do they even know what to do in an emergency or
hey, they did do that weekend certification that everybody passes…
I see it, I pray. Pray they don’t do any
significant damage. That they realize when they are in over their heads.
Next time you encounter a social media training guru, speed expert, kettlebell rockstar, or former athlete, ask them to prove they are qualified to guide your and influence your child!
Not by showing you what they can do, but showing what their clients can do. Did their clients improve?
do they handle athletes that aren’t as talented? What about ones with injury?
What do they know about building a winning mindset?
raise the bar. Make them prove they are
qualified to train your child.
Olympic Lifting for Youth Athletes: Providing the Ultimate Performance Advantage
By Coach Tim Hanway CSCS. Sports Performance Director – Norwood
Every four years without exception, the world is treated to the Summer Olympic Games. The world’s best athletes assemble and compete for national honor, prestige and glory.
It’s Usain Bolt shattering preconceived notions of speed. Simon Biles combining all elements of strength, power, poise and grace in what can only be described as gymnastics masterclass. The level of athleticism at the Olympic Games is truly inspiring.
From a sports performance standpoint, coaches like myself view the Olympic Games through a different lens. Specifically, those displays of incredible athleticism stimulate our appetites and thirst for knowledge.
Olympic lifts are a common denominator
As coaches, we look at the performances of world-class athletes and ask ourselves; how can we reverse engineer the training process? What allowed these athletes to hit such peak form? How can we also improve own athletes’ performances?
I have found that there is a common denominator when looking at the training systems of all athletes. That is, the successful integration of Olympic Lifting into the athlete’s respective training programs. Over the years, I have spoke with countless coaches and athletes alike. Reviewed training logs of professional, collegiate and other national level athletes. The Olympic lifts are almost always there.
To be successful in the highest level of any sport, athletes need to reach their maximal levels of strength, power and speed. Olympic lifting for youth athletes is one strategy to achieve this.
Olympic Lifting For Young Athletes; Is It Good?
The beauty of Olympic lifts is that they are hands-down the single-best method for developing the many aspects of strength, power, speed and total-body athleticism.
However, Olympic lifts have a highly technical in nature. Sometimes they get a bad reputation from athletes, parents and even strength and conditioning coaches. They can have a perceived difficulty and/or danger.
However, when Olympic lifting is one of the safest, most versatile and effective methods of training sport-specific athleticism. When they are taught and executed properly.
Like so many elements of training, it can be misunderstood. Which is why the purpose of this article is to shed light on Olympic lifting.
For young athletes there are many benefits. Incorporating them into your training program can help you achieve newfound levels of performance and enhanced athleticism. So we are providing a general overview of these lifts.
The Snatch and Clean & Jerk
The Olympic lifts are broken down into two main categories. These two categories are called the “Snatch” and the “Clean & Jerk”.
As portrayed in the following diagrams, the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk lifts are very similar in that in both instances, the movement ends when the bar is successfully lifted over the athlete’s head.
Sports science research shows both have very large power outputs. Much larger than classic compound strength exercises.
The Snatch, according to world renowned Performance Coach, Clive Brewer, is the “most powerful, whole-body human movement possible in sport”. It requires a tremendous explosive effort to move that bar from ground to overhead in one movement.
The Clean & Jerk
The Clean & Jerk on the other hand, is a two-part exercise where the Snatch ends when the bar is successfully lifted over the athlete’s head. Although nearly identical, the position of the bar and segmented nature of the Clean & Jerk allows athletes to lift even heavier weights than when performing the Snatch.
However, because of the heavier weight and greater distance of bar travel, the speed of execution for the Clean & Jerk is slower.
With that, the emphasis of power in training (i.e. speed vs. force) becomes the key element in executing the two lifts and more specifically, successfully training the body when performing the Clean & Jerk.
Big Force, Small-Time: The Basis of Athletic Power
Drilling a soccer ball 50yds from midfield. Soaring through the air to dunk a basketball. Making bone-shattering hits as an offensive lineman. Each of these illustrates the concept of power application.
However, as alluded to above when discussing the difference between the Snatch & Clean and the Jerk, each of the above three scenarios illustrates different types of power. To understand the difference between the three, we must first discuss what power exactly is:
In its simplest terms, power can be described in the following mathematical equation:
Power = Force x Velocity
“Force” in this equation can be broken down into equaling the product of Mass x Acceleration. Producing force is the application of “strength”.
“Velocity” on the other hand, can be described as equaling the distance an object travels divided by the time it takes to get there (Velocity = Distance/time). This is commonly called “speed”.
Jumping, sprinting, cutting and exploding from a three-point stance are all examples of sporting skills that each require a high degree of force generation, in the shortest time possible (Force x Velocity).
Hence, the mantra ‘Big Force, Small Time’ perfectly captures the essence of optimal sports performance training. Most sports movements require an optimal combination of force and velocity. to be successfully executed at the highest level.
Either Force or Velocity can be emphasized in the above equation to maximize power output. Depending upon the task at hand, you might want one more than the other.
This concept is best illustrated in the following image, which depicts what is commonly known as Sports Science circles as the “Force-Velocity Curve”.
In the diagram you can see the inverse relationship between maximal force and maximal velocity. In a nutshell, the laws of physics state that when resistance or force levels go up, speed of movement goes down and vice-versa.
Let me illustrate this concept into force and velocity components. I often ask my athletes; “Which would you rather: Be hit by a cement truck going 10 mph or be hit by a bullet going 1,700 mph?” The look I typically get in return tells me that neither option is considered ideal.
In each instance, both the cement truck and fired bullet are consideredextremely powerful from a physics standpoint. In the truck scenario, what makes the truck so powerful is the sheer weight and force of the truck of question. What it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in mass. Getting hit by a truck is very unpleasant!
The bullet on the other-hand, is tiny. The mass of such a small object is practically inconsequential on its own, but when traveling at such incredible speeds, represents a powerful and equally dangerous scenario.
In conclusion, when it comes to developing athletic performance, not all power situations are created equal. This is part of the reason Olympic lifting for youth athletes is a great way to train power.
The Best Athletes “Surf the Curve” In Their Training:
I learned the phrase “surf the curve” was one when reading an interview by Nick Grantham and Neil Parsley. They are both highly acclaimed Strength and Conditioning Coaches from the United Kingdom.
Nick and Neil expressed that for a majority of athletes, in order to achieve optimal power training, there are times in their respective training plans where they have to train more like a “truck”, less like a “bullet” and vice-versa.
The reason for this is that for so many sports, both elements of power (i.e. Force and Velocity/Speed emphasis) are present when describing the skills and abilities necessary to attain peak performance.
Take our football player as an example: the football player making a tackle represents a skill with a high force component. Whereas, that same player exploding off the line of scrimmage to beat his man and chase the opposing quarterback, represents a skill with a high velocity component. Therefore, both elements of power (i.e. big force and big velocity) are necessary to compete at the highest level as a football lineman.
Strength and Conditioning Coaches describe this point of emphasis when it comes to training power as either a “Strength – Speed” or “Speed – Strength” emphasis.
For example, let’s look at two different strength types in the same basic movement pattern. A bench press executed with explosiveness, could be considered a “Strength-Speed” exercise. Whereas a light, fast medicine ball chest throw could be considered an example of a “Speed-Strength” exercise (greater speed or velocity emphasis).
Olympic Lifts: Giving Athletes the Best of Both Worlds
Now that power has been clearly defined, and the relationship between force and velocity clearly understood, one can start to fully appreciate the ‘complete package’ of Olympic lifts.
Olympic lifts aren’t the only way to increase power
Let’s be clear, medicine balls, plyometrics, and speed work are also essential to overall athletic success. Anyone that has sat through my podcast of maximal speed training has heard how much I value focused, precise and biomechanically sound speed work.
The truth is that each of the above three classifications of exercises represent focused training strategies that are scientifically proven to maximize peak power output, especially from a speed-strength standpoint.
Conversely, I also love the regular incorporation of heavy, key compound lifts, including overhead and horizontal pressing movements like the military press and bench press, upper-body pulling movements and classic lower-body strength exercises.
What each of these broad categorizations of lifting movements have in common, is the high degrees of coordinated, muscular-strength efforts necessary to complete each of these lifts successfully.
However, Olympic lifts provide athletes with the best of both worlds. To illustrate, in revisiting both the Snatch & Clean and the Jerk, one can appreciate the degrees of power necessary to navigate the bar overhead from a stationary floor position.
What is not captured in the static images for either the Snatch & Clean and the Jerk however, is the requisite strength, explosive power, precision, and total-body coordination necessary to successfully navigate such impressive weights from the ground to an overhead position.
It is only through such highly precise, coordinated muscular efforts where high levels of athletic power can be achieved to successfully attempt either of the two types of Olympic lifts.
Olympic lifts provide one type of sports specificity
Arguably, from a ‘sports specificity’ standpoint, the Olympic lifts successfully capture the rapid triple-extension qualities of the ankles, knees and hips so often encountered in sports (see below images):
Each Demonstrations of the rapid ‘Triple-Extension’ of the hips, ankles and knees as they relate to sport
Virtually all sporting actions require a forceful triple-extension of the hip, knee and ankle. Whether sprinting, cutting, making a tackle, or attempting to jump for a serve, triple-extension is there.
Plyometrics, speed work and heavy compound lifts, are tools that represent invaluable components of my own coaching ‘arsenal’. Utilizing a combination of these tools throughout a training plan can lead to substantial gains in performance. There is no question that even in the absence of Olympic lifting, athletes can still achieve increases in athletic power.
Athletes and coaches have limited time and effort to spend in the weight room. The question I usually ask myself as a coach when creating a program is; what types of lifts and activities are going to give my athletes the most ‘bang for their buck’. What will give them the greatest return from their training investment in the weight room?
The answer is Olympic lifts. Programming olympic lifting for youth athletes combines high levels of strength, speed, power and total-body coordination.
Let’s return to the key distinction between the two lifts as well as our ‘Force-Velocity’ Curve. By nature the Snatch is considered by many coaches to be more of a ‘Speed-Strength’ exercise. Whereas the Clean & Jerk is considered more of a ‘Strength-Speed’ exercise. This due to a combination of factors which includes the bar speeds and degrees of resistance encountered in both lifts.
Overall, both versions of the Olympic lifts in a training program allows athletes to effectively ‘surf the curve’ in their training. These lifts rely on the successful application of high force and high speeds. It is impossible to attempt either the Snatch or Clean & Jerk slowly.
Unlike plyometrics or medicine ball work, Olympics lifts can have a very wide range of resistance. Instead of relying on either body weight or small, weighted implements, Olympic lifts us adjustable barbells and weight. A coach can adjust the plates in order to achieve optimal resistance levels.
There are numerous benefits that strength and power training has on sports performance. Speed training, plyometrics and classic strength training exercises can all provide athletes with exceptional gains in performance and athleticism.
Olympic lifting for youth athletes provides athletes with the ultimate “X-Factor” when it comes to training.
These lifts closely mimic the force and velocity demands of sport. As a result, they allow athletes to make monumental both strength and power gains in the weight room. They are efficient. One exercise gives multiple strength benefits.
Still the argument persists that these movements too technical for some athletes. The truth is that once mastered, Olympic lifts provide young athletes what’s needed. An array of exercises and drills that transfer to on-field performance.
Youth athletes that can learn Olympic lifts at a young age benefit from a superior training stimulus. Their successful incorporation also adds the confidence to execute one of the most common lifting skills in the sports world.
The world’s leading sports organizations have spent decades and millions of dollars to discover the formula to build great athletes.
We’ve been in the sports profession for decades, and have helped over a million athletes. We’ve examined athlete development systems around the world. And most importantly, many of us are parents as well.
We know the awesome, positive aspects of youth sports participation. It can help athletes develop a fit lifestyle, learn to work hard and build a growth mindset.
Like you, we believe in the work ethic, attitudes, and character developed through sports training and competition. We help young athletes strive to pursue their goals. That’s everything from making the team, getting more playing time, or even becoming a professional.
We are inspired when we see an athlete or team striving to be their best. Operating at elite levels, we see the stage of international sport as a showcase for the human spirit. Our love of sport includes the process of building great athletes.
This why we love what we do! Some days though, it is hard to see good people, with the best of intentions, making mistakes developing young athletes.
We understand it is hard to know what’s best for your young athlete. What’s best for them to have success now and in the long term. There is so much conflicting information.
There’s so much pressure to win now. There are the demands of sport, life, and school that make it hard sometimes.
What does it take to create GREAT athletes?
Organizations like the US Olympic Committees, US Soccer, USA Hockey and others have a mission to develop great athletes. The world’s best. They’ve spent decades researching and testing these different methods. In international sport, it’s a race to build the best.
In youth sports today, we all know that there is tremendous pressure for an athlete to “win now” so they can make the elite team. The coach and the club are under pressure to “win now” or they risk losing their players to another team or club. Parents feel like if they don’t get their young athletes in the right place early the future opportunities will be gone.
All of this “win now” leaves little time for actually developing. Don’t get it wrong, we want the young kids to compete. We want there to be winners and losers in games. Yet, if we sacrifice developing a well-rounded athlete for winning at 10 years old, we are mortgaging their athletic future for a win today.
A great athlete in most sports starts with athleticism. Without question, there are also different key sports skills you must start early. For example; dribbling in basketball, groundstrokes in tennis, and ball touch in soccer. You need to play the sport at a young enough age to start developing this.
In an athletes’ earliest years, they might rely on this skill to stand out. It’s the sport after all! Looming underneath is a need for athleticism. It becomes important more and more as they move up in levels and competition gets tougher. As the other players also have high-level skill, then athleticism becomes another route to gain an advantage.
Does Playing Multiple Sports Help Athleticism?
If you’re not sold on it yet, let’s look at a few examples of this playing out in the real world.
Urban Meyer, a famous football coach at The Ohio State University, recruits multi-sport athletes. In fact, some reports show that a whopping 89% of his football recruits are multi-sport athletes.
image from @ohiovarsity
Let’s go wider than only football and look across all Olympic Sports. The United States Olympic Committee has done extensive research for decades on what builds a champion. They’ve looked at hundreds of Olympians and medalists to see when they specialized.
Many would expect to be an Olympian you had to specialize early and give up other sports and some times that’s true. But the data shows a different story. Olympians are arguably some of the most elite athletes on the planet. Yet, the USOC study shows they play multiple sports through their high school years!
But it’s not just about specializing in one sport; it’s about the training that often goes along with it. Developing only “sport-specific” skill, without a route to increase overall athleticism does them much more harm than good!
Our job as a Sports Performance organization is to create a better athlete, which means a well-rounded athlete.
Skipping Well Rounded Athletic Development Can Have Harmful Effects…
As coaches, we hope to create great athletes who have a chance at being successful for the long haul. To support this, our programs are based on the concepts of Long Term Athletic Development.
Just like a baby needs to follow steps in development, so does a young athlete. A baby must learn to roll over before crawling, crawl before fore walking, and walk before running. Athletes need to build a solid foundation for elite athletic performance before they can reach their full potential.
The Injury Problem
When athletes skip critical steps in building this athletic foundation, they are at a much higher risk for injury and burnout. We’ve seen it in our centers across the country and we’ve seen it in Olympic development systems around the world. Olympic Committees have contracted with us to help solve the problem of injury due in large part to overspecialization.
• In a Loyola University study of 1200 youth athletes, researchers found that early specialization was one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes who specialized were 70-93% more likely to be injured compared to multi-sport athletes.
Without a well rounded athletic base, missed pieces act like cracks in the foundation. They might not be a problem now, but they can lead to future problems down the line. Small cracks have a tendency to grow over time and under pressure.
The trouble is building the foundation early isn’t always sexy. And it is really hard for parents and young athletes to find the time.
The Long Term Athletic Development model has been developed over several decades. It’s been adopted by many successful elite organizations. The best-known expert might be Dr. Istvan Balyi, a coach and sports scientist. He helped implement this model in professional tennis, with USA Hockey, in the UK to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics and through Sport Canada.
The concept is simple. There should be a long-term view of developing an athlete with the highest chance of success at the elite level. To do this we need to have some outline of what they should be doing from the youngest ages all the way through their pro and Olympic career.
A Model For Developing Champions
Now don’t misunderstand, this isn’t some fluffy “they all win and there is no competition” model. It comes from elite sport and supports competition. It doesn’t support winning at the earliest ages at the expense of being a great athlete later. This document from LTAD.ca is a great summary:
From the start to finish, we progressively build an athlete’s foundation, skills, and mindset so they can reach their full potential. But we know every athlete doesn’t have the potential to succeed in a Gold Medal in every sport.
So doesn’t that make this a waste for most athletes?
NO. Because it helps athletes reach their best potential. Because an athletic foundation of fundamental movement and sports skills improves the likelihood and opportunity to participate in sports and fitness life long.
This balance of elite development and sports participation is why so many sports organizations have adopted this model. These examples help show how Sport Canada and USA Hockey are applying it to their systems;
Since 1999 the Velocity model has incorporated the LTAD concepts and has evolved with continued research and experience with over 1 million athletes. We think about athletic development as a pyramid and if we are going to build this pyramid to great heights we need a broad and comprehensive base.
By building a broad base of athletic skill and movement we create a foundation. An athletic movement foundation that they can build on and without wide cracks. This way a young athlete has more movement skills and physical resources to draw from. Then they have more opportunity to find their best position or sport as they get older.
Just go back to that USOC graphic about how many sports Olympic athletes played. They had the athleticism to pick the one that they could excel at, in part because they had a broad athletic base.
How Can a Parent Help a Young Athlete in Todays Sports Environment?
As we know, the demands of time, year-round participation and advancing technical level make it hard for young athletes and their parents. You don’t want your kids to fall behind because they took the time to play another sport or training. You fear they won’t be on the right team or have the opportunity later.
It’s a real concern and as parents, one many of us have felt as well.
Sport coaches can be as frustrated. They fell pressure to focus on skill development. So often they cant incorporate the overall athletic development they might want as well. They only have a few hours a week and parents bring a lot of pressure to succeed now.
But we have insider knowledge. You can do both. While our young athletes in the US are playing club and school sports, they can still develop as athletes.
Through the year they can just continue to develop athleticism. Not just sport skills. Not only sports training, just general, all-around athleticism. For our youngest athletes, this means as little as 2 hours a week that builds fundamentals.
Then as they enter middle school and high school training becomes more focused on strength, speed, power, and fitness. Just 2 – 4 hours a week adds to their athletic foundation and develops movement patterns beyond their specific sport.
During some parts of the year, they can increase the time spent on developing these qualities. If they want to be their best and can spare 2-4 days a week, they can do more to reach their full athletic potential.
Developing Athletes Is About AND, Not OR.
We hope parents understand; it’s not a question of sport-specific skill OR overall athleticism. It’s a matter of AND. You can develop your sports skills, compete AND keep becoming a well-rounded athlete.
Our experience in elite sports and youth sports confirms this view. We’ve seen what works and building better athletes in key in our belief.