Sport is but One Spoke

youth development Aug 24, 2018

This blog post is a bit more philosophical, and was difficult to express. Please share your thoughts, especially if you have a different way to articulate!

I read a great article recently, titled Turning the Weight Room Warrior into a Perceptive Monster: The Missing Link in Physical Preparation.  It was written by a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Michael Zweifel, from the lens of the role of strength and condition (S&C) in the betterment of an athlete.  The crux of it is, from this writer’s perspective, is that S&C believes that increased output in traditional exercises (squats, vertical jumps, etc) will make a better athlete, but there is no direct causality.

Or in more simple terms, a beast in the weight room does not equal a beast on the field.

Zweifel calls for a more rounded, holisitc approach to S&C, including coordination, timing, and other movement-based skills. Because, as he puts it, “we’ve all seen the weight room warrior that can’t put it together on the field. We’ve also all seen the athlete that shouldn’t be successful because they lack what we perceive as adequate strength, size, and/or speed; yet they dominate the game.”

As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but reflect on my time working in college athletics.  You see, in college sports, the players are student-athletes.  They must succeed in the classroom to remain eligible so they have the opportunity to succeed in competition.  This naturally leads to the development of academic support.  On the athlete side, near the beginning of my time we introduced a strength and condition coach, the premise being to make our athletes bigger, faster, stronger.

Then we realized we have support in place for their academic success, to help them get stronger and prevent injury, but what happens if they do get hurt? So we added an athletic therapist and a team of student AT’s to support that person. Then we noticed several of our teams plateauing in season and not fulfilling their potential in the post-season.  We just so happened to have a national level sports psychologist in our Sport Science faculty, so we added in mental performance coaches.

So at this point, student athletes were now supported by 5 different groups:

  • Team coaching staff
  • Academic Coach
  • Strength and Condition Coach
  • Athletic Therapist
  • Mental Performance Coach

We viewed these as the spokes supporting the central hub, the student-athlete. But we went further.  We knew that none of our student-athletes would make a living from playing sport, so our job was two-fold – to provide them the environment to succeed in the sport they are playing now AND to develop them as human beings so they can succeed in life once they leave us.  This was done through various approaches, including

  • personality assessments and career preparation with our academic coach,
  • deeper life questions and discussions with mental performance coaches,
  • student coaching and mentorship opportunities with our team coaches, Athletic Therapist, and Strength and Conditioning Coach, and
  • education from our Strength and Condition coach and Athletic Therapist on how to look after their body now AND in the future.

As the athletics staff, we were all hyper competitive people.  We wanted to win, and we wanted the teams we supported to win. But it was all in context.  We would not sacrifice them being able to “win” in life so that they could win in sport.  Everything we put in place had to also support them in their human development. For what really is the purpose of sport?

This question needs to be in the forefront of all coaches and parents of youth in sport. What am I hoping my child will get out of this experience?

Our partner organization, Paradigm Sports, has awesomely covered the reasons kids do and do not play sports (it’s to have fun and has nothing to do with winning). But those are the outright questions, the surface questions. What about the philosophical “why”? What can we get out of sport?

This is a deep subject I have only just started reading about.  As a life-long athlete I espouse playing sport. I am, in decent part, a product of sport.  It has made me the person I am today.  From developing my physical abilities which makes me more likely to walk and talk to co-workers, to introducing me to leadership which has greatly helped my desire and ability to mentor, to realizing that all those clichés about hard work paying off are mostly true (just sometimes you don’t always understand the payoff right away). I know these same developmental opportunities exist for anyone participating in sport.

But I’m not going to dive deeper on this, because this blog is about the love of the game, and I am still green to the subject. But, what can be lifted from this is that sport is not about winning and losing.  On the surface we can preach it is about physical literacy and life-long healthy living.  We can dig a bit more and say it is an avenue for life skill development. But considering that we have discovered records indicating various forms of physical competition dating back thousands of years, it is something ingrained in us, it makes up who we are.

And like Michael Zweifel realized that the Strength and Conditioning Coach can do more than just increase the amount of weight lifted, in all avenues of sport we need to realize that we can do more than just make these kids better at a particular sport. 

We can make them overall better athletes. 

We can help them understand their bodies.

We can help them develop healthy habits.

We can develop their teamwork skills.

We can help them reap the rewards that come with focused attention and energy.

And hopefully, just hopefully, we can help develop people who will have a positive impact in their families, their workplace, and their world.

Sport can do a lot….if we do it right and focus on the things that matter. The development of the human being, the complete human, is what needs to be considered.  So, with many youth sports starting up again, as a coach remembering you are developing a person.  And as a parent, remember that sport is but one spoke of many useful spokes in the development of your child.

Essential components of youth health courtesy of


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