Oct 27, 2016
Multiple Solutions
Fred Eaves

Over the past decade, many high school athletes have chosen to play just one sport. By focusing on one activity year-round, they believe it will help them excel in that one sport. And there are more and more opportunities to participate in almost every sport during the off-season.

But most recently, many coaches are speaking out against that trend. We’ve come to realize that sport-specificity often hinders an athlete from fully developing and can lead to more injuries. It also limits student-athletes’ opportunities for learning and being exposed to different situations.

In response, many sport and strength coaches are encouraging students to become multi-sport athletes. Like a generation ago, we want to see our football quarterback on the mound in the spring, our soccer forward sprinting on the track team, and our middle hitter in volleyball grabbing rebounds on the basketball court.

But how does this affect their work in the weightroom? If they are playing on the high school lacrosse team while also suiting up for a club soccer squad in the spring, will a strenuous lifting program wear them out?

Here at Battle Ground Academy, in Franklin, Tenn., we encourage all our athletes to go multi-sport. We also ask them to participate in our strength and conditioning program. Here’s how I make sure those two things do not hinder each other:

Talk it through: When training a multi-sport athlete, the main concern is to figure out the demands on the particular athlete — both the demands of the sport they’re currently in and any stressors outside of it. Today’s generation of kids are running from school, to practice, to training sessions, so it’s really important to gauge all the athlete is involved in.

Therefore, my initial step is to talk to the athlete and ask him or her to tell me all that they’re doing. For example, I’ve had instances where kids who are in football season are playing baseball on the weekends, and that will change my approach to training them. Before I devise any lifting plans, I make sure I completely understand the scope of all the different stresses that the multi-sport athlete is under.

Reduce the Workload: After communicating with the athlete and learning what they’re involved in, I come up with a plan to modify their in-season training. The main alteration is usually a reduction of their training. This entails volume reduction, either by sets or reps, and lowering the intensity. We still ask the athlete to work hard and do some heavy lifting, but we’re smart about how we do that by maintaining low volume.

I may also alter specific exercises a bit depending on the sport and position. For example, when training a catcher, I might limit the depth of a squat to reduce stress on the knees.

Train Opposites: Another thing to consider doing with in-season athletes is training opposites. For example, if they do a lot of rotation in their sport, I may plan anti-rotation exercises. We’re not going to take a baseball player who’s rotating all the time as a pitcher and do a bunch of medicine ball rotation throws with him — we’re going to do the opposite. And we do the same thing with movement training. If we have a soccer player who’s doing a ton of changing direction during his season, then we may have her do linear sprint mechanics.

Simplify: It can also help to simplify the exercises for multi-sport athletes. If they are going back and forth between two different sports, their brain and muscle memory have a lot to take in. I might adjust a lift for them so it is very straightforward and does not require learning anything new. At the same time, it’s important that the athlete is working alongside his or her teammates and part of the group.

Encourage them: Playing multiple sports is hard to accomplish successfully. So I make sure I cheer on our athletes who do both. I encourage them when they seem overwhelmed and I let them know their success is important to me.

I also make sure to tell them all the benefits. A big one is injury reduction. In my time at BGA, I can’t recall a three-sport athlete who’s had a catastrophic injury. Kids are going to get bumps and bruises, but when we have an athlete who tears an ACL, 90 percent of the time it’s a one-sport athlete because they’re doing the same activity year round.

Kids who play multiple sports are also likely to be more holistic athletes. They learn how to be better teammates and they fuel that competitive fire year round. Also, all coaching staffs are different and have something to offer. A young person learns by being exposed to different teaching methods.

In a previous issues of High School Athlete Performance, Fred Eaves wrote about training diverse populations. That blog can be found here.


Fred Eaves, EdS, MEd, CSCS, RSCC, IYCA, USAW, USATF, BIOFORCE Conditioning Coach Certified, is Director of Wellness and Athletic Performance at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, Tenn. He was honored in 2015 by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as its High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year and in 2013 as the Samson Equipment and American Football Monthly Central Region High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year.


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