I’ve just completed my 4th year as an athletic trainer at a pretty large high school and my eyes have been opened to the sports specialization problem among high school athletes.
I work as an athletic trainer at a school with over 2,000 students and 600-700 of them are student athletes. My estimation would be that around 50 percent of those athletes are also single-sport athletes. Many of these high school athletes playing year round on a travel or club team of some sort.
The ultimate goal for these athletes? College scholarships. Most of them yearn more for that first “O” (offer) than they do to pass their math class. Many of these athletes are specializing before they get to high school. That is a controversial topic that many have talked about before.
Check out these articles if you want to read more on the faults of early sports specialization.
- Injury Rates Higher For Athletes Who Specialize In One Sport-NFHS.org
- Early Sports Specialization: Roots, Effectiveness, Risks
- Early Sports Specialization vs. Diversification In Youth Athletics-NSCA
My goal is to discuss the biggest trend I see in high school athletes, the lack of physical or strength training.
These athletes are often encouraged by their coaches to focus on skill training over their physical development and specifically strength.
Much of the time spent in the high school offseason is spent playing in a tournament every weekend or practicing with their “skills coach”.
High school athletes would see greater athletic development if they took some time to focus on strength over skill.
Why Do High School Athletes Need More Strength?
Before going into why high school athletes need more strength, you need to understand the definition of strength. Strength is the ability to withstand and exert force. Later on you will understand why I include both the words withstand and exert into the definition.
Strength Is The Basis Of All Athletic Qualities.
Want to be a better athlete? Get STRONGER!
Want to get faster? Get STRONGER!
Want to throw harder? Get STRONGER!
Want to jump higher? Get STRONGER!
Beginning to see a trend there?
Too many high school athletes focus on skill development and neglect their physical development. And the early bloomer who dominated in middle school wonders why everybody is catching up.
Strength Allows For Greater Expression Of Skill
Think about the baseball player with the sweet swing but has warning track power?
Or the volleyball player with proper swing mechanics but can’t get high enough to hit the ball over the block?
What is the common denominator that could help them take their game to the next level?
Strength. Getting strong will allow an athlete to hit the ball farther, jump higher, swing harder, or run faster.
Neglecting strength leaves a lot of athletic potential on the table.
A Stronger Athlete Is A More Resilient Athlete
“If you’re in the tub, you can’t make the club.”
This is a saying one of our veteran coaches at Dacula uses to stress the importance of athletes taking care of themselves.
The underlying meaning could also be interpreted as, “if you’re always hurt, you can’t play.”
One common thread in most injured athletes? They aren’t very strong. Their bodies are not able to handle the loads that they are having to withstand in sports.
Take a look at soccer and their injury rates. One study showed an injury rate of 6.2 per 100 participation hours, one of the highest rates of injury across all sports. Guess who often neglects strength and loves skill work?
Strength makes an athlete more resilient. They are able to handle higher loads and speeds.
Sports activities (sprinting, jumping, cutting, etc.) use a percentage of an athlete’s absolute strength. Submaximal is another term to describe the nature of sport activities.
Greater strength levels leads to a decrease in the percentage of absolute strength that is used within a movement. Getting stronger creates a bigger buffer or gap between the sport movement and the athlete’s max ability.
The greater the buffer, the “easier” the movement becomes for the athlete. By lowering the relative intensity of sports activities, the more volume the athlete can handle before injury occurs.
Most athletes, and especially high school athletes, would benefit from more strength compared to skill work. Want to be faster? Throw harder? Jump higher? Get stronger. Want to prevent injury? Get stronger. This is something that everyone in high school athletics needs to learn. Please share this with high school athletes, their parents, and their coaches.