Teaching Athleticism


There is a saying that “You don’t need to see different things, but rather to see things differently.” Sometimes we overlook the obvious. In the incessant search to improve performance we have gotten away from the essence of it all, the foundation of athleticism. It can be developed through a systematic approach to athlete development. It is imperative to look for every opportunity to incorporate elements of athleticism in all aspect of training. Specific sport skills are a combination of patterns of complex motor programs. They are patterns that can be reproduced when we tap into the wisdom of the body. Though experiencing all different patterns of movement we learn to let things happen. We learn to let the motor program run. We cue an action that will result in a “chain reaction” of efficient movement. We need to emphasize a free play approach that results in fluidity and improvisational skills.


Should we try to teach every movement and then coach it? Or should we allow the athlete the joy of discovery through exploration? There seems to be a worry about them getting it wrong! My answer to that is: What is wrong? There must be spontaneity, a joy, and anticipation in movement a sense of discovery of sport skills and training, not a robotic programmed approach. It has been my experience working with athletes at all levels in a wide variety of sports that athletes will find their own best way of doing something if they are put in a position where they have to adapt. Each athlete has a “movement signature,” it is their stamp, their personal interpretation of the skill. They are very adaptable. We need to encourage an extemporaneous approach much like a great jazz musician improvises. What has caused this? There are several factors:

Early specialization in one event is a serious problem that has contributed to the decline of athleticism. The broader range of motor skill developed through free play and exposure to many varied motor programs is a big limiting factor. The choice is to produce better all around athletes or produce highly specialized one-sport specialists with very narrow skill ranges. Ultimately the goal is to produce the best athlete possible with a rich repertoire of motor skills to select from to better execute the specific sport skill.

One sided training with an emphasis on one or two components of performance rather than a blend. The components of performance, and therefore training are: speed, strength, stamina, suppleness, skill and recovery. There is a synergistic relationship between all components therefore all components must be trained during all phases of the year in varying combinations

Monkey See – Monkey Do Syndrome. Just because an athlete has been successful with a particular training method does not mean the method is the best or should be copied. It is my experience that many athletes are successful in spite of, not because of their training. Make sure that what you are doing is based on sound training principles and a good progression. Above all make sure it fits the athletes you are presently working with.

“Nobody gets hurt, but nobody gets better.” Training that is so conservative or narrow that the athlete is never challenged will not produce results. This is the justification for many machine-oriented strength training programs is that they are “safe” when in fact, because they fail to challenge the athleticism of the athlete they might actually predispose the athlete to injury.

It is always easy and convenient to look to the “Good old days” as being better. The simple fact is that before the advent of specialization athletes learned and competed in several sports. It was not unusual to see a high school athlete compete in three or four sports. This was not so bad. The athlete may not have been as good early, but once they did chose to specialize they had a broader base of motor skills to draw upon to enhance their chosen sport skill. Sometimes it is good to look back to gain perspective to move ahead. We cannot go backward, but we must look for ways to enhance athleticism that has been lost due to early specialization.

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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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