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Athletic Preparation or Destruction

The Process of Attaining Sports Mastery (PASM) is a multi-year and tremendously complex endeavor. The PASM encompasses the training and development of every conceivable physical, psychological, technical, and tactical component of sport performance.

The strength and conditioning of the athlete’s organism incorporates means and methods of training which together comprise General Physical Preparedness (GPP). Conversely, for powerlifters, weightlifters, and strongmen many of the means which qualify as GPP for other athletes, comprise Special Physical Preparedness (SPP) for the athletes of the Iron Game. For many of the athletes of the Iron Game, many of the lifts or drills performed in the weight room are very similar or identical to those performed in competition. At any rate, the lifts/drills which serve to perfect sport skill qualify as SPP. For this reason, it is important to observe that GPP for one athlete may qualify as SPP for another.

The development of GPP, and corresponding means and methods of physical training, is more heavily emphasized during the early and middle stages of PASM. As the athlete progresses through the various levels of qualification, his/her organism develops increasing levels of preparedness. As sports mastery heightens, the higher-qualified athlete requires less durations of time to re-establish GPP. This reduction in the GPP requirement lends the way for increased training volume available for raising SPP. Accordingly, as the athlete develops sports mastery, a rise in special work capacity is realized as a result of the increase in training volume spent on SPP. This is a fundamental directive for the PASM model.

In the US, however, there is no multi-year systematized approach to training. As the athlete progresses through the school system, he/she encounters enormous in-congruence in GPP training. Many young elementary and junior high school age athletes do not participate in enough sporting activities, or general and non-specific activities throughout the year.

If the youth is only exposed to one or few sports, the tendency is to spend the most time and effort on the one in which they excel. Meanwhile, the general preparation of the athlete is abandoned in favor of emphasizing sport practice. This is encouraged by many parents and coaches which renders young athletes technically skilled for sport, yet highly unprepared in the regime of general fitness. As a result, young and developing athletes are exposed to a highly unfavorable environment for development. This jagged and entirely non-systematic introduction of various means and methods of training yields a situation which retards the PASM, encourages early specialization, yields burn-out, and often renders the athlete injured at a relatively young age.

In view of this one cannot avoid the question: are we preparing or destroying athletes?

Keep in Mind

For these reasons it is imperative that coaches (no matter what level) construct their athletes’ training with the following in mind:

  • Level of physical preparedness
  • Training age/history (e.g. exposure/experience to various means and methods of training)
  • Current and future sporting requirements (e.g. Special Physical Preparedness)
  • Concept of cumulative effect of imposed stress

In view of these considerations, we may safely conclude that in any given stage of development, any group of athletes preparing for the same sport are likely to possess varying levels of physical preparedness. This actuality cannot be ignored. It is the coaches’ responsibility to categorize and classify their athletes as accurately as possible so as to ensure that each athlete is engaged in appropriate means and methods of training.


The head coach and his/her assistants are often largely out numbered by their athletes. In such cases the coaching staff may responsibly consider the following options:

  1. Administer extensive testing procedures and subsequently be prepared to construct and account for numerous individualized programs
  2. Administer extensive testing procedures and construct more generalized program parameters which target broader classifications of athletes, yet be prepared to modify and individualize each athletes’ training during the actual workouts

In most instances (from a logistical standpoint) the second option, or some permutation thereof, will prove more efficient. In any case it must be the coaching staff’s responsibility to ensure that each athlete is performing appropriate work relative to their own level of physical preparedness and requirements.


The evolving and ever-changing state of the athlete’s organism renders training and coaching a highly organic and dynamic process. For this reason, the coach must be comfortable and encourage training adjustments "on the fly." Regardless of how highly programmed the training may be, there will always exist the requirement of change due to various occurrences. Following is a brief illustration of some of the adjustments a coach may require athletes to perform during the actual work out:

  • Change to a different training means (e.g. from barbell exercises to calisthenics)
  • Change training method (e.g. from dynamic effort to repeated effort)
  • Increase or decrease intensity (e.g. use more or less weight)
  • Adjust technique (e.g. maintain a neutral spine)
  • Increase or decrease recovery intervals (e.g. rest longer or pick up the pace)
  • Cease training (e.g. shut it down for the day)

Optimal Conditions

The primary directive for any physical educator must be to ensure the most optimal conditions for the athlete’s long-term development. This will always be achieved so long as the coach is able to initiate the following:

  • Accurately assess the athlete’s level of physical preparedness
  • Program and organize appropriate training measures
  • Exercise diligence in making the necessary adjustments during the actual workouts or training weeks

The concept of multi-year development is not one to be taken lightly or one in which the coach may simply nod his head at. As stated, the PASM is an incredibly comprehensive and complex endeavor and we would all be well-served to attempt to comprehend the PASM in its entirety.

In order to facilitate the most optimal conditions for the long-term development of our athletes, we must maintain a cognitive awareness of the space-time relationship of training effects. Accordingly, we as coaches, must recognize the past, present, and future training effects yielded to our athletes. This recognition will allow us to understand the stressors which our athletes have been exposed to and those which we impose on our athletes have a cumulative effect on their organism. The cumulative effect of imposed stress will likely realize itself long after the athlete leaves our tutelage. It is for this specific reason why coaches (who only spend a few years time with the athletes) are unjustified in trying to validate the utilization of a particular means because “we have never seen any injuries come as a result of its utilization.”

A coach’s perception of a particular training means to be reasonable and effective in the now, without consideration of the concept of the cumulative effect of imposed stress, is irresponsible. What has been done coupled with what we do will have a tremendous effect on what will be. For this reason, we as coaches must make every effort to facilitate a congruent transition from one level of preparedness to the next. Prepare the athlete.

The presented material was greatly inspired by the following texts:

Ozolin, N.G., Professor, Honored Coach, U.S.S.R (1969): “Do Not Simplify the Training Program” Physical Culture in School; Soviet Fitness and Sports Review Int. 8:38-42

Verkhoshanski, Y.V., “Fundamentals of Special Strength-Training in Sport” Fizkultura i Spovt, Publishers, Moscow 1977 (original): Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.; Published by Sportivny Press, Copyright Andrew Charniga, Jr. 1986