I recently had a revelation. At Ambition Athletics, because we work largely with an adult population, when someone asks how to get better at something, typically the answer is, practice it, a lot. Recently Max wanted to Power Snatch 100 kg. In an effort to reach that goal he power snatched every time he trained. Mission accomplished. The new goal is to deadlift 600 lbs. He is currently deadlifting, frequently. What’s the best way for someone to condition for boxing? Spar, hit the bag more frequently, etc. Want to get better at playing the guitar? Practice playing the guitar. I want to be the best coach that I can be. I think the best way is to keep getting experience, also known as practice. That seems to make sense. If you want to get better at something, just dedicate a lot of time to it. Singer songwriter Ray LaMontagne more or less locked himself in a room for 2 years while he honed his singing and playing skills. My personal revelation here is that that may be ok for an adult but not so much for a child. I’m generalizing here but there are a few people that come to mind when I think of children specializing in one skill at a young age and how their lives were a little rocky, at least for some time, when they got older (insert various child stars and prodigies here).
On the whole I still think kids and adults should train in a similar manner as everyone is still a human, so pushing, pulling, squatting, skipping and running are all important. But when it comes to kids and adults I’m seeing that the rules are slightly different. I have thought and written about the kids topic specifically in the past (see here and here) but had not thought about it in the context of the opposition to adults until I heard Mike Boyle mention it recently. Should a young kid who wants to be the best baseball player, or any other sport, and very well might be a good one, play baseball near year round to get better like I would encourage an adult who wants to be better at X?
Being an athlete is about having loads of different movement skills, body awareness, hand eye coordination, and visual skills that human beings need. A great way to develop all of that as a young person is with some variety both in the gym and out on the “field”. There is plenty of carry over in various sports whether it’s related to throwing, speed, coordination or even determination and leadership. Do I have the research to back this up? No. How do I know? I’ve felt it myself as a young athlete. And as I stated in the past, the best athletes played multiple sports growing up. Dave Winfield, Joe Mauer, Tom Glavine, Mark Herzlich, Kenny Florian, the list goes on. The star quarterback at my high school also starred in baseball, played 3 years of hockey and when he was younger played basketball and did some swimming. The star quarterback prior to him went to college on a baseball scholarship and excelled on the basketball team as well. Recently I visited Xcelerated Performance in Massachusetts. It is a solid training facility that trains mostly teenage athletes, many of which play hockey, but in the gym they have a ping pong table, basketball hoop and mini-tennis/paddle ball looking court to play on. I talked to the owner about this and he said he wants his athletes to A. have fun and B. get in shape/condition by trying and learning new things. He believes that they can build new skills, get in shape and have fun all at the same time. I thought this was a great idea. Going back to the guitar player example, I have heard people talk about the skills learned in playing one instrument such as the piano have carry over to learning how to play a new instrument. It’s not to say that adults shouldn’t do this but it is less important if there is a more specific goal at hand.
I understand that this fear has developed among athletes and parents that playing a second or third sport instead of playing year round will be counterproductive or detrimental to performance. The fact is that it wont be. Part of that thought process is influenced by the desire for scholarships. But I believe the best coaches know how to identify the best athletes and will actually encourage them to have multiple skill sets.
As a young athlete, or if you are a parent listen up, just try and make your tool box as versatile as possible no matter what the focus may be later on. It will make you a better athlete and likely help you to avoid overuse injuries. As an adult if you want to narrow your focus, as an athlete or not, that is ok. Find a goal or two and attack! In the past I’ve said that younger and older should train the same. That is generally true, as I discussed in last week’s post, the older someone is it’s to their benefit to engage their brain in a variety of activities and challenges. However, it is ok for people to specialize at some point, it’s just not likely a good idea for young people. This has been proven over and over again in the world of athletics.
– Mike Baltren