This is a topic that gets thrown around a lot and while FAR from the first time this has happened; it was a recent piece for controversy/discussion in one of the online firearms/training/MIL/LE groups I’m a part of, and a little healthy debate/defending your positions never hurt anyone, so I figured I might as well write my take and personal approach to this quandary based on my experiences and get back in the write-up game since I couldn’t type for a couple months with the busted wing.
For anyone who doesn’t know or is unfamiliar with our channel and page; I, me, Lane am a Former Marine Grunt turned general shooting and self-defense obsessed, military history super-ultra-mega fanatic and general civilian living the Grunt Life type of guy who also has about 5 or 6 years of experience as a Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach. I’ve trained almost every sport that is typical of the NCAA level in the U.S. save Lacrosse, Rowing and Field Hockey. Probably others in there but that’s not the point; if I had to label myself with an ‘I train these sports the best’ title, it would probably be wrestling and baseball/softball followed by basketball and football.
So let’s start with what a Strength & Conditioning Coach does, complicated question right? This is the simplest one but people tend to overthink it; my job is to Positively Influence Performance in Relation to the Sport in Question, that’s it (erase Sport and substitute Task and it’s the same). I know most people probably scoff or have to think about it for a second since given the title as a Strength and Conditioning Coach I should obviously be concerned with getting people stronger, better conditioned, more explosive, faster etc., but really think for a second…..If I am training a college shot-putter who throws 48 feet this spring and I put him through a rigorous off-season, add 100lbs to his bench/squat/clean/deadlift and next year he just looks like a gorilla and he throws the shot-put 48 feet; he DID NOT get better at his sport despite the positive increases in his general attributes, so my shit didn’t work. Now this could and regularly does happen in myriad ways but common reasons are injuries sustained during training, lack of or improper sport technique work or improvement of strength qualities of exercises with little or no transfer to the task at hand. (Reference Transfer of Training by Bondarchuk)
Now that we covered what my role really is, how is that achieved? The simple answer is that far and away the most common victor in an athletic competition, especially a team sport, is the best athlete or group of athletes. Being better prepared, having better conditioning, weather or environment issues or occasionally even better gear/equipment CERTAINLY can and do win some games/matches/fights where the victor just managed to outwork a technically superior foe or got ‘lucky’ because of a mistake, an opponent's injury etc, but in the scheme of multiple competitions, better athletes win hands down. So how does this apply to physical preparation, what is the purpose and hierarchy of physical development?
First, foremost, last, middle and every other spot in the chart; the primary reason we need solid GPP and strength as a foundation is DURABILITY, a strong chassis can take punishment from practice/training/competitions and either keep going and therefor improve task related skill/experience and contribute more towards victory or slow/lessen defeat; or if this athlete does happen to get injured, they will recover much more quickly and effectively than a lesser prepared/weaker chassis athlete. Ask any sport coach or strength coach who they see with the most injuries and the answer will always be freshmen, too many kids with the chassis of a Geo Metro trying to play bumper cars with a Chevy Silverado.
After durability comes general adaptive qualities that for young/undeveloped athletes will have a general and positive across the board effect on athlete qualities such as speed, explosiveness and general power; but again these effects only happen with the young/undeveloped athlete and will quickly reach a point of diminishing or no/negative return based on the general nature of the preparation and dependent on the task in question.
Now we reach the real art of development, after our athletes have a solid base of GPP we must then address the SPP/SSPP or Specific/Sport Specific Physical Prep. What this entails is the development of the athlete in Sport Specific Ranges of Motions or sport specific movements/speeds. What that means, for example: is that at some point ass-to-grass squats will have no effect on the speed or performance of an athlete, and for the elite level athletes it may even have negative effects; so now we have to move to positions mimicked on the field of play and we will now squat to ¼ or ½ depth, feet under hips and knees over toes (or other such movements etc).
The most crucial component of the development is the skill development, for football players this means watching film, learning plays/calls/shifts, practicing formations/footwork/catching passes etc. This training is always on-going concurrently with the other developmental training but as an athlete becomes better and performs at a higher level or as they approach their genetic potential ceiling, this skill related work will be the only real way to achieve any continued skill improvement
While it took me a minute to get there, I regularly talk too much once I’m on a roll, but what you get from the concept of Athlete Development/Performance Enhancement is that the development of physical qualities of strength, energy system conditioning, flexibility, mobility and movement efficiency are solely to facilitate the acquisition and usage of the sport/task related skill; they are ABSOLUTELY NOT ends in and of themselves.
If we take this approach and this concept and apply it to our own ‘tactical’/defense/combative needs we can really hit the crux of the issue. We need to be very generally physically prepared so that we can best train our shooting skill, team movement/tactics, fighting/combative skill and so that we can train the very specific energy system needs we may have during certain competitive/operational time periods and so that we then have the ability to apply this skill onto our adversaries.
Knowing that our goal is to be able to increase our skill and not strictly vague or general physical qualities; now we can also be much better at designing or choosing our training methodologies. Programs that offer developmental progress with decreased time needs, lower or negated training soreness/injuries, simplified equipment needs and a simplified Load/Weight prescription offer us the chance to dedicate more and much more effective time to honing our shooting abilities, our combative skills, our team skills etc. This also means we have to know that at certain points, the massive loading and increased risk of injury it takes to get a person from a 2x bodyweight squat to a 3x bodyweight squat may far outweigh any potential or desired reward.