My Job as a Sports Performance Coach

By Danielle King, CSCS

Movement efficiency is a primary factor for an athlete. As a sports performance coach, my job is to create a foundation of movement patterns, and then mature these movement patterns over time, fostering long-term athletic development.

What is movement? Movement is initiated at the joints and allows our bodies to perform patterns such as sitting, bending, pushing, and pulling in various planes of motion. These movement patterns occur within different limbs of the body at various speeds throughout sport.

Think of these movement patterns as the base of a pyramid. Further up the pyramid the tiers consist of endurance, strength, power, agility, change of direction, and sport specific skill. If the base of our pyramid has a weak support, the rest of the pyramid will have trouble standing. Athletes need this foundation prior or alongside with other training in order to generate optimal movement during their sport. Training for total sport performance has two critical components, injury prevention and the longevity of your athlete.

It is important to me as a sports performance coach to use scientific application in order to apply movement efficiency. This means when designing training sessions, I take into account internal and external factors that could affect an athlete’s training. My goal is to provide a structurally balanced program, eliminating movement deficiencies that may hinder an athlete’s progression. If movement patterns are faulty or deficient, my job is to correct those patterns through verbal cueing and corrective exercises. An athlete should learn to be self aware of these patterns through my guidance. This cognitive perception starts with the understanding of where different body parts are located in relation to the trunk. After an athlete has a sound understanding of general movement patterns, and how to perform them correctly; the next step is to progressively add new stress to the body. This is when positive adaptations are seen.

Strength adaptations for young athletes generally recruit because of neural factors. How do neural adaptations occur? The brain receives sensory information from the spinal chord, which then sends signals to our muscles. This process makes up our central nervous system and is generally the first adaptation made as an athlete discovers new movement patterns. The importance of neuromuscular adaptation is the development of strength and joint stability. This does not involve overloading an athlete with weight their body cannot handle. Simply teaching an athlete how to activate certain muscles under tension can build this adaptation. Then, as an athlete continues to develop, other adaptations such as size, and power develop as well.

Why does an athlete need to be strong? An athlete’s strength plays a direct role in their ability to jump higher, move faster, and prevent injury. If we think back to physics, the formula for power=force/acceleration. By definition, strength is the maximal amount of force a muscle can exert, and acceleration is an increase rate of speed. In sport, this tells us that an athlete initially needs strength, and then needs to be able to apply that strength to create power. The important thing to remember is that maximal strength is different for every athlete, and not always optimal. My priority for youth athletes is to create foundational strength first and then use that strength within movement of his/her sport.

Another reason strength is essential for an athlete’s development is to with stand impact absorption. The impact absorbed when landing and cutting is approximately 1.5-3 times an athlete’s body weight. This means that when moving at high velocities, whether it is coming down from a jump, or changing directions rapidly, the body naturally carries more load. If an athlete’s muscles are not strong enough to carry that load, more often than not, the impact occurs in the bones and joints. This is how the majority of sports injuries occur.

As a sports performance coach, I firmly believe in injury prevention. The most traditional and valid concern for youth resistance training is the risk of damaging an athlete’s epiphyseal plate. The epiphyseal plate is the site of bone growth and consists of hyaline cartilage at the end of the bone itself. When an athlete is in the period of their peak height velocity, (growth spurt) these plates are open.
Is it dangerous to train when an athlete’s plates are open? The answer is no. As an athlete trains, this new “stress” on the bone increases the bone mineral density, which actually helps the formation of new cartilage (bone growth). Careful and structured training is needed as an athlete is growing, and my job is to facilitate this training. This is done by emphasizing correct exercise technique, applying mobility and flexibility, using appropriate volume and load, and allowing time for optimal recovery. If these parameters are taken into account, the risk of damaging an epiphyseal plate is minimal, and training will benefit the health and fitness of a young athlete.

My job is to adapt, and create flexible training while maintaining a structured and focused environment. I strive to challenge an athlete’s ability to move and I encourage teaching the reasons why we do what we do. If an athlete is able to understand the reasons why, they are more apt to abide and appreciate the process. My goal is for an athlete to self-identify movement patterns, to value the preparation, and to create sustainable training habits. Producing fundamental movement patterns is the priority for an athlete, as it will directly transfer to sport specific skill. My job as an athlete’s sports performance coach is to ripen these movement patterns, which prevent injury and support long-term athletic development.