Athletic Development not Strength and Conditioning


Do we really need strength and conditioning? Over the past several weeks I have seen and heard different situations that make me question the viability of the concept of strength and conditioning and underscore the need for athletic development. I am a firm believer that words create images and images create action. Strength and conditioning creates two images, heavy lifting all the time and running until you puke conditioning; the subsequent actions reinforce those images. It is difficult for me to understand why with all the knowledge, experience and sports science research that we have available that it is so difficult to move off this paradigm. Athletic development is a complete polar opposite of the above. Athletic development coaching builds better completely adaptable athletes. Athletic development addresses all components of the individual athletes and a team’s development based upon the needs of the sport, the position or the event and the qualities of the individual athlete. At the risk of offending people it is easy to get strong in the weight room and fit for a running test, but the real art and science is to apply that strength to the sport and the fitness to the game. Athletic Development demands a systematic long term plan with everyone on the performance team involved in the process. Today S&C works in isolation. The players go to the weight room, disappear for an hour or two and come out magically stronger and conditioned. Who knows what they do there, does it connect with what they are doing in their sport training, most of the situations I have seen there is no connection, S&C is an end unto itself. Athletic Development is all about mindful movements that connect to the sport. Why are you doing what you are doing and when are you doing it? I get criticized that I do not believe in lifting weights, or that I do not believe in Olympic lifting, that is totally wrong. I believe in strength training as part of a bigger picture. Olympic lifting MOVEMENTS are an integral part of a good strength training program, but remember Olympic movements do not have to done with an Olympic bar, it is the movement that matters and how it helps the athlete apply the strength gained to the sport. Remember a good strength training program should incorporate pulling, pushing, squatting and rotational movements.

What about conditioning? What about it? A good sound athletic development program thoroughly analyzes the fitness needs of the sport and addresses those needs in a systematic manner. It all about getting match, game or race fit. Mindless running without a purpose does not mean you will be fit for the game. Game fit is a cumulative process that incorporates all elements into building the complete athlete. Arbitrary “fitness” tests that do not reflect the demands of the game have no place in a good athletic development program. To use a test to determine if someone is fit is an easy out. Most of the time the standards for these tests are arbitrary at best, I recently saw a situation where a player was one step from passing the “fitness” test; they did not pass so they had to do extra fitness work. That is absurd. Use the testing to determine where each athlete is and determine the workouts accordingly. Make conditioning specific to the game and to the position within the game and to the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

So where are we headed- I am afraid that we are heading down a one way dead end street. We need to wake up and rethink the approach to all of this. None of this is an end unto itself, it is all about preparing the athlete for optimum performance in the competitive arena. I think sport coaches and administrators need to wake up and reassess this field. More importantly those of us in the field need to shift the paradigm to developing completely adaptable athletes who have the ability to thrive in the competitive arena.
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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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