Clearing the path or preparing the athlete for the path

A recent post reporting Tony Strudwick’s comments is what prompted me to write this post.

Let’s stop putting inordinate amount of time in clearing a smooth and direct path for the athlete. All it does is set up unrealistic expectations. No journey toward athletic excellence is straight and narrow toward the destination without any bumps in the road, detours or breakdowns. Instead let’s shift the emphasis back to where it should be: preparing a robust adaptable athlete to negotiate any path put in front of them. To quote my colleague Bill Knowles what we have today is a “Medicalization of sport (sports medicine/sports rehabilitation): the process by which sports specific conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions, and thus become the subject of medical study, diagnosis, prevention, or treatment.”

This has resulted in reducing practice time by spending an inordinate amount of time on nonfunctional injury prevention programs, all of which detracts from what needs to be done to make the athlete better and less fragile. All this work preparing the perfect path is weakening the athlete and detracting from the ability to tolerate an adequate workload to get better. You don’t prepare the athlete for heat stress by training indoors in a controlled low humidity seventy-two degrees temperature-controlled environment or training is a weight room with temperature set at sixty-eight degrees. To get a training adaptation it is necessary to impose a training load that is age appropriate, meaningful and challenging in preparation for the chaotic uncontrolled environment of competition.

I am in no way proposing that we go back 50 years to my college football experience which did nothing but break us down. I believe there is a happy medium. We have gone overboard with our concern for athlete welfare to the point that we are placing them at risk by putting them in the competitive environment without being ready for the demands of competition. We are being overprotective. Training load must be high, in fact it must at times be an overload to prepare for competition. We need to do a better job of using all the measuring and monitoring tools at our disposal to be prescriptive, not restrictive. We also need to measure what is meaningful and actionable. Just because it can be measured does not make it meaningful. It is time to shift the emphasis back to preparing a robust athlete capable of travel on any road.

Special thanks to Kelvin Giles, Dean Benton, Nick Garcia, Martin Bingisser, John Pryor, Steve Myrland, Bill Knowles and Patrick McHugh for their input on this post.

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