Today we have better performances that we have ever had, but there are more injuries and fewer athletes able to sustain high performance levels for an extended career. What is missing? It is athleticism. We know it when we see it! We talk about it, but do we develop it? What is it? Let’s begin by defining the term. Athleticism is the ability to execute athletic movements at optimum speed with precision, style and grace in the context of the sport or activity. It is easy to see when someone has it.
Despite our apparent progress we have increased specialization and sacrificed overall athleticism. We are lead to believe it is an either-or proposition. Produce a better athlete or produce a better pitcher or basketball player with refined specific skills. Ultimately the goal is to produce the best possible athlete who does a particular sport. This will enhance performance and reduce injury.
With the same amount of training time available is it possible to train to improve athleticism without sacrificing specific skill training. We need to eliminate the distinction; the two are not mutually exclusive. They are co-dependent and intertwined, one enhances the other. There is time within the context of the existing structure to fit in athleticism components. It needs to be made a priority.
Sometimes we overlook the obvious. In the incessant search to improve sport performance we have gotten away from the essence of it all. The foundations for athleticism are basic coordinative abilities. According to Drabik (Children & Sports Training) the coordinative abilities are:
Balance – Maintenance of the center gravity over the base of support, it is both a static and a dynamic quality.
Kinesthetic Differentiation – Ability to feel tension to in movement to achieve the desired movement.
Spatial Orientation – The control of the body in space.
Reaction to Signals – The ability to respond quickly auditory, visual and kinesthetic cues.
Sense of Rhythm – The ability to match movement to time.
Synchronization of Movements in Time – Unrelated limb movements done in a synchronized manner.
Movement Adequacy – Ability to choose movements appropriate to the task.
The coordinative abilities are all closely related. They are the underlying foundation for and the prerequisite for technical and sport skills. Once the coordinative abilities are developed better athleticism is sure to follow. It is imperative to look for every opportunity to incorporate elements of athleticism in all aspect of training. Specific sport skills are a combination of patterns of complex motor programs. Though experiencing all different patterns of movement we learn to let things happen. We learn to let the motor program run. We cue an action that will result in a “chain reaction” of efficient movement.
There must be a spontaneity and anticipation, not a robotic programmed approach in teaching and coaching movement. It has been my experience that athletes will find their own best way of doing something if they are put in a position where they have to adapt. Give them increasingly difficult movement problems to solve. They are very adaptable. We need to encourage an extemporaneous approach much like a great jazz musician improvises.
Several factors have caused a decline in athleticism:
Early specialization in one sport has contributed to the decline in athleticism.. The choice is to produce better athletes or produce highly specialized athletes with a skill ranges very specific to their sport. Ultimately the goal is to produce the best athletes with a broader range of motor skills developed through free play and exposure to many varied motor programs not highly specialized robots.
One sided training with an emphasis on one or two components of performance rather than a blend. The components of performance and therefore training are: speed, strength, stamina, suppleness, skill and recovery. There is a synergistic relationship between all components so all components must be trained during all phases of the year in varying combinations.
Monkey See – Monkey Do Syndrome. Just because an athlete has been successful with a particular training method does not mean that the method is the best or should be copied, many athletes are successful in spite of, not because of their training. Make sure that what you are doing is based on sound training principles and a good progression.
“Nobody gets hurt, but nobody gets better.” Training that is so conservative or narrow that the athlete is never challenged. The justification for many machine oriented strength training programs is that they are “safe.” In fact, because they fail to challenge the athleticism of the athlete they might actually predispose the athlete to injury.
Training must have a purpose that will transfer the training to the sport. With a base of athleticism specific training will be even more purposeful. The basis of training athleticism is rooted in running, jumping and throwing which encompass the whole spectrum of human movement. The body is a link system referred to as the kinetic chain. Athleticism training is all about linkage – it is all about how all the parts of the chain working together in harmony to produce smooth efficient patterns of movement. The brain does not recognize individual muscles. It recognizes patterns of movement, which consist of the individual muscles working in harmony to produce movement.
The fact is that we live, work and play in a gravitationally enriched environment, it cannot be denied. Over reliance on machines will give us a false sense of security because they negate some of the effects of gravity. Gravity and its effect must be a prime consideration when designing and implementing a functional training program or we are not preparing the body for the forces that it must overcome. We cannot ignore gravity, it is essential for movement. It helps us to load the system. Therefore we must learn to overcome its effects, cheat and even defeat it occasionally.
Understanding and training athleticism is a challenging process. It demands creativity and imagination. It is often contrary to conventional wisdom as represented in current mainstream sport science research that emphasizes specificity and measurable outcomes. Do not be limited by conventional wisdom use it as a staring point and move forward while thinking and acting outside the box. You and your athletes will enjoy the day to day challenges of training with the results a higher injury free performance level.
Article published on performbetter.com by Vern Gambetta (Link to article)