Youth Athletics and Specialization

tiger_woodsOver the last decade, youth sports have undergone a drastic transformation: general athletic development is being replaced with specialized preparation at earlier ages. This transformation began a long time ago, but has been accelerated as people saw the success of Tiger Woods (shown to the right) and the Williams sisters. Now I see more kids choosing to focus on one sport year-round than the three-sport letterman of years past. This is the topic of my most recent article for Juggernaut Training Systems.

This trend is bad, but the common reaction against it is to focus again on only generalized training. As I argue in the article, there doesn’t need to be a choice between specialized and generalized. A combination can work even better and I bring in some examples from the throwing world.
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The 5 S’s of Training as Defined by Dan Pfaff

I recently purchased a couple Dan Pfaff seminars online and wanted to narrate some of his training ideas into a series of blog posts. If you have read any of my prior blog posts you know Coach Pfaff had a strong influence on my training program as a thrower in college while I was training under throws coach John Dagata at Iowa State (Coach Dagata is now the Jumps coach at Oklahoma). While training under some of Coach Pfaff’s principles, I saw my speed, strength, and explosive power reach levels I would have never dreamed of achieving a few years earlier. As a drug-free collegiate athlete I possessed a 38.5? standing vertical jump, a 10’9” standing broad jump and a sub 4.7s laser 40yd dash at 255lbs and 9-11% body fat. Near the end of my senior year I could dunk a 16lb shot put from a stand still with ease. All of these feats were achieved after approximately 24 months of rigorous training following many of Coach Pfaff’s principles, as implemented by Coach John Dagata.
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Practice Maker – Repetition

Repetition is the mother of learning. We are what we repeatedly do. I doubt anyone would argue with those points. The task then becomes to carefully choose what we repeat. It is necessary to have a clear idea of the technical model you wish to achieve and a plan to achieve the desired technique. We know that practice makes permanent so repeating incorrect or flawed movements will ingrain the faults. Read more


The key to getting better is practice. Up to a point when an athlete is beginning their career virtually anything they do will make them better, in fact the more they do the better they get. Then there comes a point when practice must be guided and have a specific purpose. Read more

Practice Maker – Routine

Edwin MosesThe first consideration in effective practice is routine. A set routine is the basis for consistent practice. Great athletes and great teams have set routines for training that do not vary. In fact with individual athletes training routines sometimes border on ritual. Routine allows the athlete to focus on the task at hand. I have found that there is security in having a routine. It gives an anchor point to build the training session upon. Start on time, have specific objectives and stay on task, then practice will be meaningful. When I think of routine I think of the great hurdler Edwin Moses. Read more

Reverse Transfer of Training

Ever since Bondarchuk published the English translation of his two-volume work several years ago, “transfer of training” has become a buzz word in the physical preparation community. The concept itself is quite simple: exercises are of varying usefulness depending on how much the gains in one exercise transfer to the gains in the competitive exercise. We want to use the exercises with a positive transfer, i.e. exercises that will help us throw further as we improve in them. Exercises that have no effect on the throwing, or that hurt results, have either a neutral or negative transfer of training.

The best way we have to measure the amount of transfer comes from correlations. But correlations just show if two exercises rise and fall together; they do not show the actual casual link between the two exercises or which direction it flows. For example, let’s say that a thrower sees a simultaneous increase in hammer throw results and front squat performance. We all would likely infer that front squats are improving the throw. But it could also be the opposite: the throw might be helping the squat. I call this a reverse transfer of training. The transfer of training effect operates the same no matter what direction it is going, but in these cases the direction is simply the opposite of what was intended.
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It’s Not About The Coffee

starbucksI am a big fan of Starbucks and believe me it is not about the coffee because I am not much of a coffee drinker. I could not tell Sumatra Plus from instant coffee, but I do know one thing about Starbucks it is all about the experience. The joke among friends and family is that my office is Starbucks and I have branch offices all over the world. Most importantly the terms of the lease are quite favorable. At my main office AKA the Starbucks at the corner of Fruitville and Honore in Sarasota they know me. (By the way if you are ever in Sarasota give a call and I will meet you at the main office.) When I walk in they know I want a Grande unsweetened ice tea with four ice cubes. It cost $2.09. I can get twice as much tea at McDonalds for $1.07, so why Starbucks? Plan and simple it is about the experience. Read more

Periodization and the Systematic Sport Development Process – Part Three

Periodization is a viable concept that certainly will help improve our sport development system, but we also need trained coaches to plan and then implement the plan. A productive sport development system is coach driven and athlete centered. The solution lies in educating our coaching in the principles of planning in order to optimize resources and time. To achieve athletic success in any kind of systematic manner, certain principles must be observed. The principles are the same regardless of the sport. The plan is the means to execute the principles. Read more

Periodization and the Systematic Sport Development Process – Part Two

Matveyev was one of many who formalized the concept. Because he was Russian, and the Soviet Union was the dominant geopolitical force in the communist bloc, Soviet ideology tended to prevail even in sport. This explains the dominant influence of the Soviets in the literature of training methodology. Certainly, there were others like Harre in the GDR who made significant contributions. Still, most of what we see in the literature today, including the work of Tudor Bompa, who has done much to popularize the concept in North America, is basically a rehash of the Soviet literature. Not much has been done to modify, study, change or adapt the concept to the contemporary challenges that exist in sport today. Over the years most of the science underlying periodization has been in the form of studies of overtraining. Although today there does seem to be more sports science research directed to studying training adaptation which certainly has the potential to add science to the art of planning. (Rowbottom, 2000) The international sport environment is very different today than it was even twenty years ago. Read more

Periodization and the Systematic Sport Development Process – Part One

Periodization is simply planning. It is something that effective coaches have done forever. Planning gives direction and purpose to the training. It also provides a context to evaluate performance aside from wins and losses or personal records. Periodization is a concept not a model. It is a systematic attempt to gain control of the adaptive response to training in preparation for competition. There is little “hard science” to substantiate periodization. It is mostly based on scientific inferences rather than hard scientific evidence. On the other hand there is an immense body of coaching evidence going back into the early twentieth century that underscores the key elements of what eventually became known as periodization. Read more