Athleticism is the ability to execute athletic movements (run, jump, throw, push, pull, leap, stop, start, hit, fall, roll, brace etc.) at optimum speed with precision, style and grace. It is easy to see when someone has it. It can be developed and improved
Today in the development process we have increased specialization and sacrificed overall athleticism. It is not an either-or proposition – produce a better athlete or produce a player. Ultimately the goal is to produce the best possible athlete who does a particular sport whose performance will be enhanced and injuries reduced. With the same amount of training time available is it possible to train to improve athleticism without sacrificing specific skill training. They are co-dependent and intertwined, one enhances the other. There is time within the context of the existing structure to fit in athleticism components. It just needs to be made a priority.
There is a saying that “You don’t need to see different things, but rather to see things differently.” Sometimes we overlook the obvious. The foundations for athleticism are basic coordinative abilities. According to Drabik is his classic work Children & Sports Training the coordinative abilities are:
Balance- Maintenance of the center gravity over the base of support, it is both a static and a dynamic quality
Kinesthetic Differentiation- Ability to feel tension to in movement to achieve the desired movement
Spatial Orientation- The control of the body in space
Reaction to Signals- The ability to respond quickly auditory, visual and kinesthetic cues
Sense of Rhythm- The ability to match movement to time
Synchronization of movements in time- Unrelated limb movements done in a synchronized manner
Movement Adequacy- Ability to choose movements appropriate to the task
The coordinative abilities never work in isolation, they are all closely related and they are the underlying foundation for and the prerequisite for technical skills
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. Through 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 getting it wrong! My answer to that is: What is wrong? There must be a spontaneity and improvisation, not a robotic programmed paint by numbers 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. They are very adaptable. We need to encourage an extemporaneous approach much like a great jazz musician improvises.