Training: Separates the Winners from the Not-Winners

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”

From what I could gather from a quick interwebz search, this is a quote taken from General George Patton (though swap “training” for “peace,” but the spirit of the quote remains the same.) I strayed across it this morning and it accurately portrays the life of an athlete. There is the competition season and there is the off-season. The off-season should be reserved for rest and recuperation from competition and building up strength for the next round of competition. (Charlie will delve into this in the coming weeks.)

*sigh* Often, though, we see kids (as young as 9 or 10!) competing all. Year. Round. For the ENTIRE YEAR. (For more on this topic, click here.) There are a plethora of problems with this (overuse injuries at young ages, burning out, peaking to early in life, not to mention having zero social life…) but I’ll focus on an aspect that frustrates and saddens the SAPT coaches, one which we are constantly lamenting: total lack of training in favor of competition. Everyone wants to compete but no one wants to train to prepare for competition. (this goes for big boy and girl athletes too. You can’t compete all year-round.)

Competition season often has erratic schedules and can wreck havoc on eating habits, sleep schedules, and the ability to train regularly. That’s expected for a few months, but if an athlete is competing all the time, when will he/she recuperate and grow stronger? How will the joints (and their surrounding tissues) that get abused and overused during the season ever recover? Strength training not only strengthens muscles, but the tendons and ligaments too, which helps prevent overuse injuries because the tissues are more capable of handling the competition performance.

Taking an off-season (a TRUE off season, not playing on a club team) is crucial for long-term athletic success, both in the sport of choice and life. We see a lot of baseball players and volleyball players at SAPT. We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of players with shoulder/elbow issues and (more the ladies) ACL repair surgeries. And NONE of these kids have even completed high school yet. That’s not supposed to happen. Here’s an article about the retirement of Dr. Frank Jobe, the first surgeon to perform a Tommy John surgery (reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow). The quote that stuck out to me the most was:

Jobe and John are alarmed by the numbers of 12- to 17-year-olds who are having the operation.

“It’s like an epidemic, and it’s going to grow exponentially,” John said. “These kids are rupturing the ligament. They’re playing year-round baseball.” Justin Verlander, he argued, does not pitch-year round. Why do teenagers?

“The ligament needs rest,” Jobe said.

And that doesn’t just apply to baseball players. It’s an example; apply this across the athletic spectrum to athletes who compete in year-round sports. It’s insane and as a coach, it breaks my heart to see athletes hurt and unable to compete (or function in daily life) in the sport they love. The frustrating aspect? Most of these injuries could be prevented if athletes just strength trained in the off-season with a dedicated focus on getting stronger and building an athletic foundation upon which their specific skills would only flourish (not diminish as some people are wont to think).

Worried the sport specific skills would evaporate over a “long” off-season? Fine, twice a week, work on a few specific skills, for example, lay-ups, volleyball serves, hitting (baseball)… but don’t compete. Get stronger, eat well, sleep well, and I guarantee that the next competition season will be stellar.