One of the joys of being an athlete and a coach is striving for perfection in the fundamental skills of a sport. Technical proficiency was necessary for me to have success in baseball, football, basketball, track & field, and especially in strength & conditioning. Fundamental skill development was a focus of everything I did as a coach and as a player. Getting better every day was at the core of what we did; it was the core of our program philosophy.
Over the years, I found good things happen to those who consistently work to fundamentally improve. These athletes get better while others stagnate; they enjoy more success, and experience more satisfaction in their sport.
What may have been my most embarrassing moment as a coach was not a bad loss or getting ejected from a game (yes, it happened), it came from a TV news spot a local station did on our football team in the second year we coached. The station was doing a piece on the resurgence of the program and they did a few interviews, plus shot some video.
Everyone was excited to watch the actual newscast and I felt a jolt of pride when the story came on the TV. Good interviews, good background info, everything going smooth, and then the bottom dropped out.
They showed our dynamic warm-up routine and the kid closest to the camera, a lineman (which made it hurt even worse) was performing his high-knee skips like he was in the park on a Saturday afternoon carrying a picnic basket and singing “Skip to My Lou”. His technique was horrid and it was right there, in 240 lbs. of offensive lineman glory, skipping like a kindergartener across the TV screen.
I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. It was my own fault as a coach for allowing this lapse of technique to occur. I decided then and there I needed to up my coaching game and teach/demand more from ALL the kids in the program. Fundamental skill development became a challenge I was not going to fail at again.
Do you know why they call the basic skill a fundamental? Fundamental means the most important part of something’s basic structure or function. The fundamentals form the foundation of the skill one wishes to excel at. There are fundamental skills in sports, science, welding, teaching, coaching, electrician, etc. In practically any field, one must learn and master the fundamentals in order to succeed.
Why are fundamentals so important?
Let’s say we’re building a wall, a solid, brick wall. The first step in building our wall is to prepare the ground to give us a flat, stable surface. Maybe we’ll even pour a concrete footing to give our wall the strongest foundation possible. Once this basic foundation level is set, we can add the best bricks or stones to the foundation and bind them into the others to solidify our base.
The base foundation is stable. Our fundamentals of our wall are solid, so as we add bricks to create the vertical wall it becomes a marvel of strength and can endure an attack or force.
Let’s say you’re in a hurry to build your brick wall. The ground you start with is slightly inclined, with clumps of grass and weeds covering the soft layer of earth. And, you’re going to use those dirt clods and mud pies the kids made this morning as your foundation layer. Now build your brick wall on top of this makeshift foundation.
Which of these walls would you rather have if you’re wearing your bright red jumpsuit and staring down a charging bull just stung by a bee in the pasture on the opposite side of your new wall?
That’s what training is; it is building your best possible wall out of your own body. Mastering the fundamental and techniques of your chosen endeavors is absolutely vital to maximize performance. In sport, the physical movement skills, the combination of strength, speed (quickness) and agility, are the fundamentals one must work to master.
It’s that time of the year where we see a lot of photos, videos, etc. on social media from high school kids participating in powerlifting meets. Often, I see these and cringe. Especially, the young freshmen and sophomore athletes exhibiting technical flaws which make the “Skip to My Lou” high-knee skips look like ballet. These kids, besides risking injury, are not developing the proper fundamental movements skills, the foundation of their wall is shaky, and without intense correction, they may never reach their full potential.
Young lifters should never be given the green light for weighted lifts without showing proficiency in the proper technique. Technique work is the foundation for results. These athletes are wasting precious time with each repetition they perform improperly. Good things will happen in the future if you train by the mantra: “Movement first, then weight.”
A large part of coaching is the development of the talent in your program. In my opinion, it is also one of the most neglected facets of coaching. Player development must be a priority, especially at the high school level where the talent pool consists of the athletes who walk through your door every day.
Teenagers rarely will do this on their own. They need guidance, they need a plan, and sometimes, they need a kick in the rear.
These three things separate the good programs and coaches from the bad.
I would like to ask all athletes, young and old, to remember the importance of doing things right and with fundamental soundness. Focus on technique first and foremost. If you find yourself needing help with technical development, ask for help or contact me and we can find the help you need.
Be your best.
Hard Work is the Magic