The Fitness Mis-Education of Team Sports Athletes… Pt 1

Theresa, the Penance General Manager, and I decided that I should write to the mistakes and mis-directions that I’ve seen (and have been guilty of) over the years that I’ve spent in and around the Strength and Conditioning arena. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that if I put it all in one article, NO ONE would read all the way to the end. Instead, I will be releasing these as “bite-sized” pieces of information, with the hope that everyone will actually read it, and apply what they can see value in!

Part 1 – The Leaderboard

The first misdirection that we’re going to look at is the gym leaderboard! 

Stepping on my own toes here as this is 1 that I am 100% guilty of, and have 100% seen the detrimental effects of it within the gym – and have learned from it and have changed to the better option that we’ll cover at the end of the article.

Years Ago… Our Leaderboard before we started adding records to it.

The Purpose – 

I completely understand the “why” behind putting a leaderboard as the focus of an Athletic Training Program. Most Strength Coaches LOVE working out… they love pushing themselves to find their limits, and then trying to surpass those limits. And it is usually a bit confusing to Strength Coaches when the athletes in their training program do not share the same zeal for training. Their athletes, more often than not, see their Strength and Conditioning time as a “necessary evil” in order for them to see improvements on their court or field of play – and will usually approach it with “punch the clock” effort.

It used to baffle me, but now I get it – team sports athletes love their sport, not training for their sport!

So the question then arises: How do we get the kids to care more and push themselves harder during their strength training?

The first answer that most Strength Coaches come up with is to bring a bit of a competitive feel to the Weight Room. Even better, put the best lifts or scores up on a big board where everyone can see it. And that works – kids will instantly turn their efforts up in an attempt to show up their friends and teammates, and put themselves at the top of the gym pecking order.

The Problem – 

  • What we as Strength Coaches have to remember, the weight room is not the competition floor for team sports athletes, their sport is! Often, when the leaderboard becomes involved, athletes will push themselves to reach strength numbers that are essentially unnecessary for improvement in the sport of choice. What I mean by that is that if build a Wide Receiver’s Squat from 365lb to 455lbs, would he actually be any faster or more durable? Odds are that he would not, and the time and energy that he used there would have been better served working through his routes and building his skills on the field. We, instead, need to push the athletes under our care to the level of strength that would allow them to build proficiency, efficiency, and durability within their chosen sport(s) and then give them the perspective and wisdom to shift their focus toward other areas of their athleticism/sport that need work.
  • This is the biggest problem! The first thing that breaks down as someone approaches failure with any exercise is technique/form. This is true for everyone that has ever done any kind of strength training. Even Professional Powerlifters have a “Technique Max” (meaning a weight that they can perform on a given lift with perfect technique/form). Team Sports athletes do not have the experience with weight training required to allow them to safely push themselves to the point of failure (especially with the complex and intricate movements that most training programs use for the leaderboard) AND safely bail out of the exercise when sh*t goes wrong.
Coach’s face watching that very sh*tty last rep!

The Better Option – Strength Standards

I am not ashamed to say that I have stolen this idea from Strength Coaches that have been around longer than I, and learned from their own experiences.

Rather than use a leaderboard to motivate your athletes to push themselves harder, set the movement and strength standards that you expect of them. These should be movements and at levels that will help the athletes to become more proficient, efficient, and durable within their chosen sport.

The largest benefit here is that the coach can set the bar that you expect them to reach, this can give your athletes a higher target and much more traction in the early stages of their training, and better perspective of what is important and a priority in their later years of training with you.

If you’d like a bit of direction with Strength Standards, I have included a link to examples given by Dan John, who has been training athletes longer than most Strength Coaches have been alive. These are not the exact standards or movements that we use with Penance Athletics, but they can definitely help steer someone in the right direction.

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