Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What does it really take?

I’ve been contemplating a lot lately on the bigger picture of injury and performance; Injury prevention is talked about, and training programs are supposed to help reduce the risk of injury. This I completely agree.

My thoughts are that the injury prevention focus might be worded incorrectly. These words become our perspective and our actions progress from there. I think “injury prevention/reduction” creates a subconscious fear response: defensive at the least.

The other side of the same coin is improving performance. What does it take to improve athletic performance?

Lots of experts now discuss the concept of long-term athletic development, a slowing of the physical developmental process in order to get things right; fixing and improving movement deficiencies, developing the basic motor skills to allow for improved body control, working on skills, developing speed, power, strength, agility, work capacity, and progressing towards more competition.
I like the idea of long term athletic development (LTAD), but unfortunately, it’s not a part of our national physical education curriculum. However, LTAD really is for everyone, as no part of athletic excludes or must exclude anyone. We are so fixated on health and wellness, almost chasing a demon or soul (depending on perspective I guess) inside our body that is somewhat undetectable to our natural senses, except for those few that are exceptionally body aware. The athletic development approach turns the focus outward, on performance which is ultimately what we want our bodies to be able to do. And doing, so long as it’s the correct doing, usually takes care of the inside.

The problem with the extensive knowledge of what LTAD takes to accomplish, is that it may come at a point too late in history for it to really get us ahead: improving performance and reducing injury.

Reflecting back on my younger (in age) years, a typical day would be biking/walking/running to school early enough to play football or whatever other necessarily rough game we could think of, doing the same at recess (secretly tackling with vengeance when the supervisor turned their back to our game), playing some currently banned game utilizing hard rubber balls in gym class that could leave a mark for days, more tackle football at the 2nd recess if we were lucky, and it depended on the time of the year, but I remember playing more football after school in the hour or so we had prior to basketball practice. Along with the sporting side of things, we lived in a rural community and region, and we spent a good amount of the rest of our free time climbing trees, building tree forts, riding bikes, and even some not so approved of fun, but which still involved lots of physical movement. My friends and I never stopped moving except for the times we were forced to sit still in class, or going to bed.

This carried on up throughout our school years, albeit at less consistency (weird things happen as you get older, as energy just doesn’t stay quite as high for some reason). The progression through the middle school and high school years became more organized sports that changed as the seasons changed, although vigorous physical activity was happening year round, and all the time we were competing against one another. But even as things became more organized, we never were taught the things that are taught by LTAD experts: how to run properly, jump and land, squat, lunge, lift, brace. Sure we were taught to throw, but not by the standards of today’s throwing “experts”. But it didn’t matter; we still developed athletic, strong bodies. Many of us even ate like shit and that didn’t matter either, we weren’t obese.

Ultimately we PLAYED…. and thinking back, of those that were involved in the hours of play before, during, and after school, and the ones who stayed consistent throughout the upper grade years of multiple sports year round; none had an injury outside of the freak contact injury that is inevitable if you live the life of a normal, active human being. We didn’t get hurt, and many of us still play quite vigorously still with very few aches or pains.

Many of us were also fortunate to go on to play collegiate athletics in some way shape or form. Looking back, as the smaller school that we were, per capita, we were athletically very successful both in performance and relatively little injury, as was the same for many of neighboring schools we competed against… all minus any long-term athletic development conducted by performance experts.

Had we had the type of physical education program I am espousing, filled with the full progression of skill theme development that makes up part of the LTAD process, might have we been better? I do not know. But today’s progress in knowledge and understanding is being paralleled by, very simply, a lack of free play. The sporting legends of today and yesterday were not made by a LTAD program or outstanding P.E. programs, they were made on the playgrounds, in the streets, out in nature, on a child’s own free time: mimicking their peers and idols, and competing daily.

So a well thought out and applied LTAD program might give us a plus one, but presented on a culture and society that is sitting at a minus one gives us what? Zero.

So what am I espousing? I really don’t know, but good performance and staying injury free doesn’t necessarily come from a coach or program, nor can it; although they can help... if things are done very well. Miracles don’t occur from a few hours of “training” per week. The majority of it comes from physical use day in, day out… hours upon hours; free play, what kids used to do at the parks, playgrounds, backyards, and in the woods. Just as play readies children socially, emotionally, and intellectually, it prepares their bodies for increasingly challenging demands. Injury reduction and performance enhancement start young, and under the guidance of the children themselves given time in the right environment.

If at some point, we get to “Utopia”, hopefully today’s model of athletic/physical development will be applied on the lifestyle of yesteryears. We need both: sound physical education and lots of free play. I think it can be done, but it’s going to take a lot to wake up from the sedentary slumber we find ourselves in. If we can see that we are built to move and can put it into action, then I really believe we have taken a giant step forward towards advanced (or restored) consciousness.



Josh Leeger said...


That was my experience as well...organized sports supplemented my PLAY activity...not vice versa.

And today, the same is true.

My problem with the "LTAD" models out there is that they posit some "goal state" that isn't in the present moment.

How about "Present-Term Athletic Development?" PTAD

Wherever you are, that's where you need to focus your efforts and abilities.

Getting to some "goal-state" might happen, but that should be an intention more than a rigid and forced outcome.

What's the goal right now, always?

For me, and for any athlete or other person I've ever met, THE CURRENT GOAL HAS ALWAYS BEEN THIS:

+ to improve strength power and endurance (the %'s may vary)
+ to improve range of motion
+ to improve agility and reactivity
+ to improve tissue quality, and recover-ability...

I've never met ANY client - athlete, non-athlete, bodybuilder, etc., who wouldn't agree that they want to do those things.

"Physique" goals are important for bodybuilders, but even that goal takes a backseat to those above for most of the bodybuilders I've ever met.

So why not seek simply to do those things at all levels of "long-term" development?

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

I really like this,

"That was my experience as well...organized sports supplemented my PLAY activity...not vice versa.",

and unfortunately I think that has become the case.

I also agree that all those components need to be worked on at all stages. Maybe it's the "experts" that feel more comfortable with "progressions" they can control?

Josh Leeger said...

I think you're right. It makes it simpler in a way. But it just isn't true that you never work on a quality...the body is a unified whole!