Consider the intangibles that separate athletes

I watched my son’s soccer match this
weekend. This is his first year on a competitive squad and it’s fun to watch
him succeed.  This weekend they played a team that obviously had more
experience, had been playing the sport longer, and had much better skills
moving the ball and executing on the field; to say it politely, my son’s team
lost, quite badly. 

    As I watched the other tournament games
going on on the other fields, I noticed a similar story unfolded on each of the
younger groups’ fields; better skills on one side led to a lopsided score at
the end of the game.  But as the ages increased, the skills evened out;
even those groups that dominated at the younger ages weren’t necessarily
running away with games in older age brackets. 

    Why?  The skills didn’t erode as they got older,
they got bigger, stronger, kicked farther.  What happened?  The answer is eventually the playing field
evens out, what caused lopsided scores when you were younger, isn’t there
when you are older and, ultimately, the end result of games is decided by which
team has the best athletes on the field.  Which player has those
small intangibles that separate them from the masses that
play the game. 

    The same story is true in almost every
sport.  Exceptionally strong or big players will dominate in contact
sports, like football, probably through high school.  Once you hit
college, the size and strength even out and it comes down to quickness and
speed.  In other sports, like soccer, baseball and basketball,
players with excellent sport skills can lead teams to victory up to a certain
age, but eventually size, speed and agility impact how far you can

    Sure there are some exceptions to
this rule; but, in general, the best athletes always have the best chance of
success in sports.  This article is going to discuss two key
components provided by sports performance training that can help you
understand how to become a better overall athlete.

Basic Sports Skills – What makes a great athlete?  Speed, power,
agility, strength, conditioning, body awareness and great sports skill
come to mind when we picture the qualities that make up the best
athletes in the world.  Only a very small percentage of people have
these skills naturally. A majority of athletes work daily on improving and
mastering these skills.

The science of exercise physiology
is relatively new, but in those few short years research has grown to
understand what it takes to make the human body more efficient
and better at every type of physical activity.  As each year passes and
training programs evolve, we end up coming back to one simple and basic
concept: speed rules.  The fastest, most powerful athletes always

    Speed comes in a few forms, and one is set
up mainly by genetics. But movement
efficiency is something that can be taught.  Maximizing movement
technique, minimizing wasted motion, improving reflex skills – all things that
can be taught and learned – can have a dramatic impact on an athlete’s
on-the-field speed.

    Being a better athlete is about dedicating time to improving all those
skills mentioned above.  At every level of major competitive sports,
athletes participate in a rigid and structured sports performance training
plan.  This is not because they have time to waste in their day, it
is because they realize the advantage they can gain by improving
their basic sports skills. 

Injury Prevention –  To be noticed as a great athlete you
have to stay on the field of play.  There is an alarming trend in youth sports
that needs to be addressed, and that is the dramatic rise in severe injury
rates at younger and younger ages.  As children are being asked to become
more competitive at younger ages, they are beginning to suffer the same
injuries seen typically in athletes of much older age groups.  As
children compete in year-round sports and play in the same number of
games as fully mature athletes play, their bodies break down and show
signs of overtraining.
    Again, every collegiate and professional
organization provides a full-service sports medicine and sports performance
program for their athletes to help keep their bodies in shape and able to
withstand the stress of competition.  We assume because they are younger
and bounce back so quickly, our children don’t need the same; we’re finding out
we’re very wrong.  Athletes need the stimulus of a properly-designed
strength, speed, and conditioning plan in addition to their normal sports
schedule to help prepare their bodies for the stress of competition.  Can
every injury be prevented?  No, but we can lessen the risk and
severity of injury in sports participation by preparing the body to handle

    It is not easy to find the time to devote
to sports performance training.  It is an activity outside of regular
sports participation, but it is a vital component of a regular practice
schedule for those athletes wishing to succeed both at their current level and

(Joe Marsit is director of Velocity Sports Performance,
Scottsdale, and can be reached at 480-503-8212)