This is a topic that comes to mind a lot as the school year comes back into session. Kids start getting back into the routine and begin training for their in-season sports. Many parents are a little lost in exactly what they are looking for in terms of training for their youth athlete(s). The expectations that parents have nowadays in regards to their kid’s sports are quite extreme. To an extent, I am in agreement with a rigorous training schedule in order to exceed. What I have a lot of trouble getting down with, is what are the best methods to train our athletes. There are many types of coaches that can play a role in our youth athlete’s development. The main types of coaches are: the strength coach (aka strength & conditioning), sports-specific coach and a sports performance coach. Which coach is best for athletic development is a very big debate in the world of athletics, so let’s explore!
A sports-specific coach is an athlete’s primary sports coach. This is the coach that runs their practice and is the present coach at competition for their given sport. Their main role is for overall athlete development specific to that sport. They do this by using very specific skill development exercises and drills for their primary modality of training. They are known to dabble with strength and conditioning principles, but rarely are they any good at it. High level sports-specific coaches will often delegate other modalities of training to other coaches that specialize in that area in order to further develop athletes. At the college level, the sports specific coach works in tandem with the strength and conditioning coach in order for athletes to reach their true potential.
The strength coach’s primary role is to develop a training plan to help athletes excel with appropriate levels of strength and appropriate doses of conditioning for their specific sport. In very simple terms, their role is to literally get athletes stronger for their sport and better conditioned (having the ability to be in great shape for their sport). It is very obvious why this coach plays an important role in athlete development. This coach can often be confused with the next type of coach.
The sports performance coach is a bit odd to me. In my opinion, this is either just a fancy term or an unnecessary coach in most athlete’s development. A sports performance coach is a specialist whose primary role is to use training methods and tools to help an athlete excel in his/her sport. Though the definition most certainly sounds like a serious role and a pretty obvious coach that is needed, I am not sold on their true purpose. Sports performance training is a bit of a buzz term right now. It sounds sexy and important. It is very popular amongst newer coaches in the athletic and fitness field. It even looks like this coach bridges the gap for true athletic potential. But let’s explore what an athlete needs and why before we make any conclusions.
Athletes need a sports-specific coach. The sport cannot be played competitively without a sports-specific coach. This coach is the, or I should say should be, the primary teacher of the sport. This coach teaches specific exercises and drills to further develop those skills needed to play the given sport. An example would be, the agility ladder during a football practice. This drill is specific to the sport to help with foot speed and coordination. Makes sense. Sports-specific training lives in the world of skills and drills and only dabbles in other areas. Athletes don’t necessarily need, but benefit greatly from a strength coach. The strength coach literally fills the gap that the sports-specific coach needs. The strength and conditioning coach’s job is NOT to do sports-specific drills like, agility ladders with the athletes. It is a waste of time, assuming this is done with the sports-specific coach. Time is, or should be, spent doing what the job is. That is to work on getting athletes stronger for their sport and in overall better shape for their sport. Entirely too often, we see the Strength Coach also trying to be the Sports-Specific Coach. I believe this is actually why the Sports Performance Coach came to be.
If you cannot put the pieces together as to why this coach is really not necessary, let’s spell it out. We’ve concluded that the sports-specific coach is 100% unavoidable for sport athletes. It really comes down to whether your athlete needs a Strength Coach or a Sports Performance Coach in addition. The sports performance coach is a blend of the sports-specific and strength coach, which essentially means they have not mastered either. If the sports-specific coach is there to teach the drills and skills, then why have it regurgitated with mediocre strength training via the sports performance coach? It is quite senseless in my opinion. The sports performance coach is a “filler coach” and is really just a marketing ploy. Let’s put it this way, what are the job titles of the guys in charge of the athlete’s performance off the field at the professional level? That’s right, they are strength and conditioning coaches, NOT sports performance coaches.
I know the end of that came out a bit brash, but I get pretty passionate about my career and the things that pollute the industry. There are actually deeper reasons for why the sports performance coach is unnecessary due to training methods, but that is another topic on its own. I believe that there is a place, a small place, for sports performance coaches. They serve a purpose in situations that don’t have competent sports-specific and strength coaches available. It is a bit more uncommon, but possible. Also, a lot of sport performance coaches are actually strength coaches by the nature of their training methodology. They just use the term sports performance coach because it sounds cooler or more important. Overall, use logic and common sense to make the best decisions for your athletes. Beware of the coach who uses fancy words and terms to get you to buy-in. A serious sports-specific coach who can develop the athlete’s sport related skills paired with a smart and relatable strength coach is a solid recipe for athletic success.