In our last post, I introduced the concept Sports Performance Pyramid. In that article, I talked about the base of the pyramid, foundational movement skills. In this article, I am going to talk about improving Athletic Development.

I believe with younger kids, sports performance is mostly limited by their sport specific skills. As a result, younger kids can see great gains in their sport by working those sport specific skills such as puck handling, batting practice, throwing and catching. However as kids age and the level of competition increases, focusing on sport specific skills will not create the same gains. For example, you often hear of an NFL athlete making gains due to their off-season training program. Their time is not spent throwing and catching. Their time spent in the weight room and out on the field to improve footwork and speed. The athlete is making gains by working on the second tier of the Sports Performance Pyramid – Athletic Development.

In this tier of the pyramid, the athlete is developing top end speed, power, strength and agility.  No matter how good the athlete’s Sport Specific Skills, the athlete will be greatly limited if there is a lack of speed, strength, power or agility. Let’s take a wide receiver in football. He may have the best hands and can catch anything thrown his way. That won’t matter if he’s slower than the defender (speed), can’t make a move to get open (agility), can’t out jump (power) the defender to make the catch. By increasing speed, strength, power and agility, we are in essence raising the ceiling of athletic performance. An athlete with a low ceiling will will be much more limited than one with a higher ceiling.

An well-rounded athletic training program should include time spent in each of these areas. Furthermore, the overall training program structure and each individual session need to be properly structured to ensure optimal development. For example, if you perform strength training in the first part of your training session, you’re muscles will become fatigued. If you then go to work speed, the fatigued muscles will limit the effectiveness of the speed training session. An effective training session should always be performed in the order of most complex to least complex. For example, bounding broad jumps should be performed prior to working on your front squat. However, there are times where you might want to change up the order of the training session to condition your body to be able to perform those skills when fatigued. Just understand, working on skills while fatigued may not lead to outcomes you’re going for.

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