It's the off-season for a lot sports right now and as a lot of players leave the pitch, diamond, and grid-iron and enter into Winter Training, we get a common question from athletes and parents alike.
What Baseball/Softball/Soccer/Football (etc) specific training do you offer?
This is a great question, and one that has multiple levels of thought in the answer. Especially when we are asking about sport specific training for youth athletes and not professionals, there are things that need to be considered when even contemplating doing sport specific training. In order to avoid beating around the bush, a simple list may help us understand what sport specific training looks like and does not look like in the first place.
1. The Most Sport Specific Training You Can Do For Any Sport Is To Play The Sport
This should be a no brainer, but confuses even some coaches out there. To get better at soccer you have to play soccer, and to get better at baseball you have to play baseball, etc. There are specific skills within these sports than can be developed, which is done at practice, making practice the most specific training for a given sport.
2. Sport Specific Training Is NOT Doing Sport Movements With Added Weight Or Resistance
This seems like it should be a no brainer, but apparently it is not to some coaches or athletes. Now, will a medball slam against a wall may look like a baseball or softball swing and does indeed have huge benefit for those sports. But it also has benefits to Football players, Shotput and Discuss Throwers, Combat Athletes, and more. It's not a weighted baseball swing, it's a rotational movement. It won't make a softball or baseball player better at hitting the ball, but it will make them hit a ball harder when they make contact. Likewise, kicking a soccer ball with ankle weights won't make you better at soccer, but building strong legs and a strong core will increase the power of your kick
3. Sport Specific Training Is Not Always Healthy
The best way I can describe this is with the following quote:
"Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them." - Allen Shawn
Essentially, the more you focus on one thing, the more other areas suffer. For athletes, this can mean their overall health. It usually surprises people to learn that the World's Strongest Man competitors sleep with a CPAP machine (a device used to prevent sleep apnea and breathing stoppages), but in order to get so strong they have to gain abnormal amounts of muscle and fat mass. To get better at a sport, channeling all of your energy into that domain can place a beating on the body and mind, and it can lead to lasting problems.
4. Sport Specific Training Is Less About What Exercise Is Done, And More About How It Is Done
This comes back to human physiology, and the demands of the sport. Often times, the specificity of a sport isn't what is seen, but what is unseen. For example, soccer and football are two field sports that involve high levels of general athleticism and require high levels of speed, agility, vision, and skill to be highly successful. But one major factor separates the needs they have in the training room: the duration of the game and the plays within a game. Football is a power sport, with a 60 minute game that happens in bouts of 1-10 seconds and a lot of rest time in between. Soccer is a 90 minute game, but there is no stopping or timeouts. For this reason, soccer players will need a higher aerobic capacity (endurance), whereas football doesn't need nearly the same amount. Both needs strong legs and hips, and would use a squat or deadlift to develop said need, but the sets, reps, and tempo may change drastically to accommodate those needs.
5. Sport Specific Must Keep The Athlete At The Center Of The Picture
If an athlete is skilled but physically underdeveloped, they are at a higher risk for injury and possess a lower ceiling for skill acquisition. Athleticism, at its base level is General Physical Preparedness (GPP). When we bias a certain sport, especially at younger ages, we delay the physical maturation process and development of the physical abilities needed to execute higher skill levels. We eliminate the "G" from GPP, leading to higher risks for injury, and a higher risk of burnout. In order to keep the athlete at the center of a Sport Specific Training program, one of the main aspects is to keep up their levels of GPP in order to maintain their overall health. Health is a driver of performance, and keeping general athleticism as a focal point for single sport athletes is crucial to keeping them playing for a long time.
As you can see, Sport Specific Training can be some muddy waters to wade. In order to understand what will ultimately determine the content of said training programs, deep understanding of the athlete's ability and needs, their training background, and the demands of the sport have to be considered. Especially with young athletes (high school and younger), understanding these factors makes a huge difference into the decisions made for their training.