an open letter to the coach

Dear Coach,

Your commitment to the team is great. You genuinely want to help each athlete mature and develop to their highest potential. It's for good reason that you hope they are likewise committed to the sport and to you.

You don't want to see your investment depreciate during the off season, wasting five months finding trouble, losing interest, or sitting around becoming Call Of Duty champions. You want them to continue developing their skill, physical conditioning, and competitive drive. This is where I take issue.

There are patterns that I notice. I love sports and athletics, but not having a horse in the race gives me an advantage in perspective. I'll cut to the chase here. Why all the structured distance running in the off season? 

Running is better than nothing. It may even be the best thing for a few athletes. But when you actually evaluate the demands of the sport, and match that against the strengths and weaknesses of an individual, you will often find that running is far from the best use of their time.

I recently had a client ask what I thought of this typical soccer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, etc off-season training "strength and conditioning" workout.

- - - - -
10-15min Warm-up
10 minutes run at 60-70% MAS or around 75-85% HRmax
1 circuit of BW exercises - 15 reps each of air squats, split jumps, skater hops, and calf raises
10 minutes run
1 circuit of BW exercises
10 minutes run
1 circuit of BW exercises
 - - - - - -

This is someone's idea of a strength training? My response, for this athlete, was "Why?" I never said it was easy. Even if the sport in question is cross country or other endurance events, this is a fairly useless thing to trudge through during the off season.

Granted, most sports require running. Sports (and positions) vary greatly in the amount of endurance, power, and top speed that they demand. But even soccer players (ugh, especially soccer players) would do well to invest a three- or six month chunk of time toward developing peak speed and strength.

Focus on refining your weak points and movement patterns, pushing your body to new limits in jumping higher, sprinting faster, and actually moving some weight, not simply more more more distance running.

Do you imagine that a wiry teenager is going to become clunky and slow by devoting 6 months to building total body power and a little size?

This does not mean being lazy. This does not mean taking up hardcore Crossfit or Powerlifting as a competitive level. It does mean shifting the focus and priority for just a few months. It means giving the mind and body a chance to adapt to different yet complementary stimuli. What you get is a physically and mentally refreshed beast of an athlete in the new season.

No athlete can (or should) need to maintain peak endurance and stamina year 'round. Where strength, power, and size take months and years to develop, an active and motivated young adult can easily recover high level endurance abilities in two to three weeks.

What sport-specific test would convince you of this? The timed mile? A soccer player who trains appropriately with a power and speed emphasis can easily break the 6 minute mark with just a few weeks of endurance work.

Again, we're talking about a well designed strength and conditioning program involving plyometrics and total body resistance and conditioning with free weights, not group Boot Camp or sitting on various resistance machines mindlessly churning out 3 sets of 10.

See what happens when you give motivated, devoted athletes some structured training with a break from intense endurance work. You'll get a bigger, faster, more powerful version of the person you knew, with some newfound confidence to tear it up.

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