by Detric Smith, CSCS, USAW, ACSM-HFI

1. Not knowing how important an off-season is: An athlete may get better at sports specific skills during the season, but in most cases, they will not get stronger and faster during the season. The body can only recover from so much. The off-season is important so that nagging injuries get a chance to heal and muscular imbalances can be addressed.

2. Not getting your athletes stronger: Getting stronger is the foundation on which other qualities can be developed. It is the key to preventing injuries.

3. Not addressing muscular imbalances and flexibility issues: A muscle imbalance will lead to injury in just about every athlete. Your body is like a car. You might have a problem with your car right now that you don’t know about, but as you put more and more miles on your car, the problem will get worse. A thrower with muscular imbalances around the shoulder joint will more likely get an injury. An athlete who has flexibility issues will more likely suffer some form of injury over the course of his or her career. For example, tight hamstrings will lead to low back problems. I also consider some form of soft tissue work (massage or self massage) necessary in order to prevent injuries.

4. Not knowing the difference between flexibility and a warm-up: The traditional warm-up involves jogging a lap and then touching your toes for 30 seconds. This is very outdated. There have been many studies that show that not only is there is a better way, but the old way is dangerous for your athletes. Warming up with dynamic movements similar to the movements you use on the field is superior because it prepares the nervous system for activity, warms up the body, and addresses flexibility in a manner similar to the sport you play. Static stretching is great after practice as it reduces recovery time. Static stretching before activity has been shown in many studies to decrease power output (vertical jump).

5. Not individualizing programs: If you really think about it, does it make sense to train an athlete the same way you train a bodybuilder? Once again, your body can only recover from so much at one time. Why devote two hours a week working on your biceps when they will not allow you to run faster and jump higher? Do you really feel like you should train a lineman the same way you train a wide receiver or a wide receiver the same way you train a quarterback?

6. Not understanding sports specific cardiovascular requirements: Why do baseball players spend almost all of their time running long distance for cardiovascular work (if they do any at all) when they will never do that in a game? Baseball is a game of sprinting so they need to devote more time to sprint training. I’m not picking on just baseball players. Just about every sport does their conditioning work the wrong way.

7. No attention to agility training: How many sports only involve straight ahead speed other than track? Keep thinking. I will give your more time. If you coach any sports team, you should put more focus on agility training. Running around cones is not agility training. If you’re teaching your athletes how to round the cones, you’re on the right track, but it is more detailed than most people realize. Make sure the agility training is specific to your sport.

8. Not addressing recovery methods: You will only improve performance when you realize that you don’t get stronger in the gym. Your body has to recover from the stress you put on it. Muscle soreness is a sign that you broke down your muscles, and if you plan on improving performance, you had better start thinking about various recovery methods, nutrition, and getting plenty of sleep.

9. Not addressing nutrition and body composition: Nutrition is very important. I can’t emphasize this enough. An athlete who improves his or her diet will have more energy and recover more quickly. An athlete who loses fat and gains muscle will improve performance. The best athletes in the world (sprinters, football players at skill positions, basketball players, gymnasts, etc.) tend to have very low body fat percentages.