How much should an athlete train vs. play their sport? What do you think is more important?
Well, the first question really should be, what are your goals? If it is just to have fun playing a sport, then games and practice shoulder be your focus. If your goal is to go to college or beyond for your sport, the more important aspect is training.
Look at any professional program today and you will notice there is about as much time spent training off the field as there is on the field. So why do we think it is not as important for our children? I would argue that training is more important the younger you are. This is because foundations must be in place FIRST in order to truly excel at a sport. Understand this; an athlete will always have a cap on potential and be more at risk for injury if certain foundational movements are not mastered first.
Why are non-contact injuries and surgeries at an all time high in youth athletics? Because we play too many games without a focus on our foundations. Does practice make perfect? No; perfect practice makes perfect. And how do we obtain perfect practice? Off the field.
So what should training look like? For all the high schoolers out there, it is not bicep curls… Training should be unique to every individual. Every person is made and functions differently. Uniqueness within a sport should be maintained while also making sure there is not an ‘energy leak’ leaving room for potential injury. The goal is to build power, strength, and speed behind sport specific movements without compensation.
How is compensation built and how do I know if I am compensating? It is very hard for one to determine their own compensations. This is because it feels normal to you. You have adapted to the compensation so it feels right. A compensation is an adaptation to a biomechanically flawed way of moving. We do this when guarding a previous injury, when we are chasing metabolic efficiencies, or battling ergonomic adaptation. We only start to understand our compensation when pain arises. This pain can either show up as overuse or as an acute non contact injury. You see the problem here…
My athletic background lead me to play baseball at The University of Kentucky. Was I a good pitcher? Yes. Could I have been better? Absolutely. Could my Tommy John surgery been prevented? Yes. I played baseball at a high level for many years with not one person understanding biomechanics enough to let me know that what I was doing was wrong. Unfortunately, this is true in many sports, even at very high levels.
My goal is to make sure 4 very crucial aspects are in play for every sport and everybody. In a nutshell these are Core Stability, Scapular Stability, Hip Stability, and Transfer of Load. In our clinic, we have each athlete perform a sport specific functional movement screen and assessment to determine compensation. Then we have to change the way you move. We do this by isolating a certain muscle group, teach you to use the muscle dynamically, integrate this muscle group in sport specific function, and finally make sure this region can accept and transfer load efficiently and powerfully.
We do not stop there… In our training facility we also help athletes maximize their strength and speed with sport specific foundational movements in mind. Once foundations are in place we give an athlete all of the resources to become the best athlete they can possibly be. Our training aspects include nutrition and meal planning, baseline testing, velocity programs, strength programs, in and out of season workouts, recovery options, sport specific skill work, and periodic biomechanical assessments.
So what is more important, on-field or off-field work? This is up to you to decide but one thing is for certain, foundational movements must be mastered to truly maximize potential and decrease the risk of injury.