To touch on my previous post, tradition is a fundamental concept that should be embraced at arm’s length. We must have the ability to understand where traditions come from, what time period and how if at all, can it benefit what we are doing today. From a sport performance standpoint, I am going to touch on the tradition of strength and conditioning coaches drawing much of their athlete training from track and field.
We can all understand the value of cross training for our multi-energy system sports and how we would draw on sports like weight lifting, track and field and power lifting to increase performance. As an example; these athletes are amongst the strongest and fastest athletes in the world, so if it works for them, it must work for us right? My concern lies in how much time and effort should be spent on utilizing different methods to build better athletes vs. better sprinters or weight lifters and in what combination we use these. For the sake of this article, we will start with some of the issues I see with Track work. Do not get me wrong, I utilize many of the strategies from all of these disciplines in my athlete training. The goal here is to question if and how much is of use vs. how much we use based on the fact that we have always done so. To be clear, by using track and field methods I mean encouraging your athletes to wear spikes and training them as if they are prepping for top speeds as a competition on a regular basis or utilizing the majority of your on-field or court time working on sprint work.
· Track and field athletes are judged on time or a measurement of distance. At the elite level how do these athletes get better in their sport? Think about it for a minute….THEY MAKE GAINS IN THE WEIGHT ROOM! They’re not shaving tenths of a second off their times because they are just getting more technical or by miraculously sprinting faster.
· There are very few variables in track and field. You may have to contend with weather or different surfaces, but for the most part everything in your training can be predicted and modified based on the needs of your INDIVIDUAL athlete. Track and field has a very defined season and the amount of races an individual may have can be predicted well in advance. Team sports require the collective effort of the group dynamic which does not make planning as easy. You have to contend with injuries, different abilities/positions/body types/weather/opposing teams etc.
· The needs of an elite athlete in a multi-energy system require: change of elevation/direction, acceleration/deceleration in all planes of movement, contact and potential for repeat contact, needs of position (should an offensive lineman do the same speed work as a receiver?), weather variables, practice variables, distances covered in average bouts or bursts (energy system requirements). Having said all of this, I understand the need for track workouts in terms of movement efficiency, energy system and central nervous system development, but we also have to consider why we are doing something other than the fact that track athletes are fast and powerful. The majority of sports other than the ones listed in the opening paragraph require the athletes to be able to move efficiently in short bursts to close gaps and clear or avoid defenders. How much are you preparing your athletes for this vs. time spent on the track? The majority of track work that I incorporate is focused on starts and start variations with an emphasis on efficiently moving from a static or dynamic position to a powerful step(s) over a short distance (under 10 meters). From here we look at what the dysfunction is first and if there is none, we move to longer distances as needed.
· We have skewed the need for data as a main performance indicator. There is definite value in knowing who your fastest athletes are. Having said that, think about how often your athletes reach top speed in their perspective sport or position. Is their 10 meter time more important for their sport than a 40meter? If so, how much time do you intend on spending on the latter? The NFL combine puts a large amount of merit into the 40yd dash which in turn has athletes training for the 40yd dash vs. working on specific skill work or other important factors of the game.
· The running mechanics on the field of play do not always mimic that of the track athlete. Some sports require a tremendous amount of contact and/or the use of a stick, racquet or ball. It’s understandable in sports that only one person has contact with the ball at any given time, but what are those surrounding them doing? We must also take a look at the stride length of someone that is sprinting on a track vs. a ball carrier in rugby that may have to incorporate the 5 “D’s” of Dodge ball-“dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.”
· Different body types for different sports and positions. I touched on this earlier, so aside from the comment I made, think about the difference in body type from say a power forward and a point guard in basketball or a lock and a prop in rugby. All will have completely different mechanics based on strength, power, limb length and general athleticism. Are you modifying what you are coaching for their positional and energy system needs?
It is not my intention to take away from what track athletes do for their sport. As both strength and conditioning and sport coaches we must draw from other sports, take what we can use when it’s applicable as opposed to doing what everyone else is doing or we have always done. As far as I am concerned, we are still in our infancy stage as strength and conditioning coaches for multi-energy system sports, thus the need to question everything we do and let the results speak for themselves. Remember kids, don’t just think outside the box, question what is in it first, weed out the crap then build your own box coupled with the mistakes and successes you have learned from yourself and others. As always, this is my opinion and I welcome all comments and criticisms.
Yours in Strength,