Elite Sport Skill ≠ Elite Athlete: The Importance of Total Athletic Development

In nearly all avenues of sport, work, and life, the basics should precede advanced techniques. This isn’t a novel or profound statement. Yet, sometimes this seemingly simple thought process can get lost in the muddied waters of athletics sport performance.

Unfortunately, those who forget the concepts of appropriate progression and regression and chase marginal gains using inappropriately advanced techniques too early in the athletic development process can potentially hinder future growth (in the short and long term), and even harm the athlete if it is too abhorrent. But, more simplistically speaking, doing so is a very inefficient use of training time.

The novice trainee has the unique potential to make incredibly large progression (in strength, movement quality, performance, etc.) with relatively little dosages of training compared to their older, more advanced counterparts – i.e. the intermediate/advanced trainee. Thus, the question should be asked: why would we seek to gain 1% here, 0.5% there with advanced methods, when we can more simply, effectively, and efficiently teach the basics and still make tremendous progress? 


None of this is to say that we refuse to take marginal gains when they present themselves as possibilities. I still believe that we must leave no stone unturned – if we can gain 1% here and there, we should gladly take it. So long as it doesn’t come at too great of a cost of resources (time, money, etc.) or impede overall development of the athlete’s foundation.

The irony is that, when working with elite-level athletes (those that excel in their given sport(s) ), it can be easy to forget that not all components of athletic development are developed concurrently – not without a highly thoughtful and integrated athletic development program centered around age-appropriate (biological and training ages) training:

In other words, years of accumulated sport-specific skill-work does not equate to years under the bar; years with great sport-coaching does not equal years with great strength-coaching or structured periodization; and high-level sport performance doesn’t truly indicate an athlete’s place on the scale of total athletic development.


A prime example: this couldn’t be more appropriate of a concept than in professional baseball, where even the most advanced pitchers and position players may still be relatively novice in terms of training and general movement competencies. Take a high school draft pick: he may be in the top 1% of all amateur (or even professional) pitchers in the world in terms of “stuff”, but still may have never considered what a decent night’s sleep can do for him, what a solid foundation of movement quality means for overall development, or of what a good meal actually consists. Would he be better served to be do all of the “sexy” training that, superficially, seems to be “appropriate” of an elite athlete? Or, rather, would a solid developmental program actually be most appropriate – one that can lay the foundation for a long career of steady and healthy progression?

Rather than place an athlete directly into a program that is befit of his current sporting skill, we should instead look to bridge the current gap that may exist between that current skill level and overall athletic development. Thus, the Varsity Sophomore wouldn’t necessarily do the Varsity training program verbatim. In the same vain, the newly drafted player wouldn’t necessarily undertake the traditional Minor League training program as written.

Additionally, education should be aligned with these same needs. Not only should the athlete develop the physical capacities to enhance sport performance, they too should develop the knowledge-base that sets them up for success on the field, in the weight room and training room, and in life (in terms of the lifestyle that is most conducive to being a successful athlete/student-athlete). The movement and physical preparation coaching they receive should be bathed in the context of overall development.

The total athlete – no, the total person – should be “slow-cooked”. And, each individual should understand how and why their athletic development process is a necessary part of their career.



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