Up to this point, the discussion has focused on the bottom half of the Hierarchy of Sports Performance Training. The top half of the Hierarchy hasn't been covered nor will it, and there are two reasons why.
First, it’s fairly self-explanatory – practice your sport, compete at your sport. Second, as a strength and conditioning (S&C) coach, my job doesn’t spill into the sport-specific, and it shouldn’t!
The most often-asked question I get from parents and athletes is what sort of specific training can be done for (insert sport here). My answer is the same for everyone: get strong first, then get fast and explosive and learn how to change directions. That’s where a S&C coach’s role lies – to get the athlete strong, fast and explosive.
You may ask why a S&C coach doesn’t get into specific training for specific sports.
Here's the deal: almost anything a S&C coach does should not be sport specific, because the only thing that would accomplish would be to throw off the feel of the sport itself.
Here are a few examples to help better understand.
If a baseball player wants more power in his swing, a S&C shouldn’t give him a barbell to swing thinking it’s heavier and which will make the bat easier to swing. The only thing that will do is throw off the timing of the baseball player’s real swing. If we get that athlete strong through the hips and abdominal region and get him more explosive, when he goes back to swing a bat he will have a more powerful swing.
If a basketball player wants a better shot, a S&C coach shouldn’t give the player a heavier ball to shoot in hopes of making the real ball feel easier to shoot. Again, it will simply throw the player’s shot off. Getting that player strong through the hips and shoulders will improve his or her shot without throwing it way off.
Now there is a slight exception to this rule.
If an athlete does a lot of straight-line sprinting (track sprinter) or change of direction (football running back) a S&C coach will work directly with those movements. But it will not be in the context of the sport.
The goal is to generally get the athlete faster and better able to change directions. Then when they go into their sport, they are already fast and agile, and can focus their attention on more complex tasks within their sport (a sprinter may think about hugging the corner of the track and a running back about where the ball is being held).
A S&C coach gets the athlete stronger, faster, and more explosive. That’s it. The S&C should not be mixing in sport-specific training into strength and speed work, because it will only serve to worsen the athlete’s outcome. But with the strength and speed training, the athlete will be at a far greater advantage the moment the step into sport-specific practice.
There is a reason why S&C coaches are getting a lot more attention at the professional and collegiate levels: because they make athletes universally better. And a better athlete is a better (insert sport here) player.