Athletic Development – Beyond Strength and Endurance

well-rounded athletic training

In a recent entry, I stated that we currently live in what I describe as the strength and conditioning era. Young athletes have never spent so much time working to develop strength, power, and endurance. Unfortunately, the extra time directed towards these attributes often comes at the expense of other physical qualities. Speaking as a coach of both kids and professionals, it is clear to me that well-rounded, multi-sport athletes have become a rarity. There just aren’t as many kids playing a variety of sports throughout the year. As a result, many athletes aren’t developing the coordination that they would have in previous generations.

Times Have Changed

I’m sure I speak for most readers who grew up in the 1970s or 80s by saying that we played a different sport every season. We also spent less time sitting in front of a television. As a kid, there was nothing I wanted to do more than go outside to play. We played outside every day until the sun went down. Neighborhood pickup games were the norm. Whether it was baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc., there were always enough kids to get a game started.

Looking back, I never realized that all the time I spent playing would be so critical to my athletic development. Much of my coordination was developed by playing so many sports. Each sport improved a physical quality that otherwise wouldn’t have been developed as effectively. For instance, soccer improved my footwork, baseball improved my hand-eye coordination, and boxing improved the coordination of my left side.

I could go on and on with examples but I’m sure you get the point.

Relevance to Training

By now, you’re probably wondering how my childhood experiences are relevant to your training. To put it bluntly, there is much more to athletic development than simply improving your strength or endurance. Most mainstream sports rely heavily on coordination. In other words, it won’t matter how strong or enduring you are if you lack the coordination to apply those attributes effectively.

As a result, it’s useful to challenge your coordination with different movements, games, and activities. A few examples can be seen in the video montage that follows.

Clearly, the examples above are just a few of countless options. When working to improve coordination, variety is important. Strive to be well-rounded, not a one trick pony. It’s always useful to challenge the hands, eyes, and feet in different ways.

Application

Plenty has changed since I was playing pickup games in the street over 30 years ago. I can’t just walk outside and find myself in the middle of a fierce athletic competition among friends. The world has certainly changed so our training must change as well.

One way to do so is by dedicating a small block of time each day towards challenging your coordination. For example, I often include a coordination challenge as part of my warm-up. Earlier today, I juggled a soccer ball for ten minutes before my lower body strength workout. Tomorrow I will do something entirely different. Perhaps I will juggle baseballs or dribble a basketball. I’m always looking for new and different ideas. The only constant is that I dedicate time each day towards challenging my coordination. I can always find an extra 10 or 15 minutes. And while that might not sound like much, it definitely adds up.

It is also useful to perform conditioning exercises that will challenge and develop coordination. A few examples include jumping rope, agility ladder drills, and punching a heavy bag. Don’t limit yourself to monotonous activities that can be done with your eyes closed (ex. riding a stationary bike). Instead, condition yourself with exercises or games that also will enhance other pertinent skills.

Final Thoughts

Throughout this blog’s history, I’ve made a point to regularly emphasize the importance of coordination. As a coach, I’ve seen over and over again that playing one sport isn’t enough for an athlete to develop the well-rounded qualities that he or she will need to succeed. With that in mind, it’s important that all athletes take the time to improve their coordination and all-around athleticism.

We can’t change the fact that early specialization is becoming the norm. What we can do however is continue to develop a wide range of athletic qualities through proper supplemental training. Such training should not be limited to traditional strength and conditioning. It’s also important that athletes continue to challenge qualities such as hand-eye coordination, agility, balance, and footwork.

You won’t need a lot of time to improve these qualities and the work itself provides a nice change of pace from the norm. Training to improve coordination is challenging, effective, and fun. Speaking for myself, it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my routine.

Give it a try and I’m sure that you will enjoy the benefits that follow.

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 “Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.” – Jerry Dunn

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11 comments:

  1. I think a big part of being an athlete is grounded in leading an active lifestyle. As a competing amateur boxer and someone who’s main job is mainly made up of sitting, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is just to move.

    There is so much fun stuff to do! So much stuff to try out and dabble in. Hiking, climbing, bouldering, swimming, running, basketball. They are all fun. Especially with friends or the significant other.

    At the moment we have pretty great weather here so I love to go longboarding or getting the slackline out and just work on my balance. I also like to get into some other martial arts once in a while. Even if it is only one unit a week or maybe only for half a year or a year. But the experience and skills you get when doing some Wrestling, Judo, BJJ, Muay Thai, MMA, Kendo, Fencing, Silat are just great. You meet new people, new coaches, new training methods. You start thinking out of the box and imho just develop tremendously.

  2. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, in a street with a park at the end of the road, a swimming pool around the corner and tennis courts a short walk away. We were always mixing up what we played and never got bored. Like you Ross we would be out all the time. Great times and a massive shame that it doesn’t seem to be the normal thing for kids growing up now.

  3. Great point about variety. We hear it all the time when it comes to strength training, but then seemingly forget about it for athletic training.

  4. I think the sports specializing that kids are doing nowadays is too much. I don’t see any reason to specialize in one sport until you are least on the Varsity team in high school. I’d prefer an athlete to not specialize until college, when it is deserving of a true year round schedule.

    Out of the athletes that I have trained and the players that I have coached in Basketball, I’ve noticed that the more diverse they are with sports, the more physically developed they are.

    I think your coordination work is great. Even specialized athletes can use with. Example -basketball players hitting agility ladders while performing dribbling drills so their hands and feet have to work at the same time!

  5. I love this article! My younger sibling was only good at one sport, but I convinced her to go out and try other sports. By doing this she was able to excel in the sport of her choosing because of all the little skills she learned along the way. It is so true that kids don’t play as many sports at once, but I also think that is because school is more of a focus now a days. Parents and schools put more stress on kids to keep their grades up so that they can get in to college. They don’t calculate the time it takes to practice for a sport team and do school work on a daily basis.

  6. Great read. The expression “Jack of All Trades” is not true when it comes to developing overall athleticism. I have seen professional cricketers playing soccer for improving footwork and table tennis for improving reflexes and hand eye coordination. You really need to broaden the landscape to achieve better results.

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