Would you like if a doctor was treating you for strep throat even though you have chicken pox? No, I didn’t think so. Far too often, I see athletes going through programs that just aren’t for them. For example, if an athlete has short arms, long legs, and a history of lower back pain, they shouldn't be pulling from the floor. Or if an athlete can bench more than they squat, then they shouldn't only have one day of lower body strength work. Some of you may be thinking, these are dumb examples, but unfortunately, it happens more often than not. Most athletes are not receiving a individualized program.
This is why each athlete needs to be treated unlike any one of their peers. Meaning, stop with giving a group of six high school baseball players the same exact workouts that are planned 20 minutes prior to them walking in. It may help them, but will not benefit them as much as an individualized program.
Now that I have ranted, let’s talk about how you can individualize a program for an athlete, or anyone at all. It takes three A’s: assess, adapt, and appreciate.
Break down the athlete’s movements, make it simple. Look for any dysfunctions and jot them down. Is the athlete super flexible, stiff, uncoordinated, etc.? Let the athlete guide the assessment. This means you do not have to follow every bullet on the assessment sheet; if the athlete has tight ankles, figure out why, put them in positions to assess the issue. You can do this with any part of the body. Doing this will help you properly write mobility, stability, and modifications. No, the assessment won’t give you all the answers. Which brings me to my next part.
Just because it is typed all nicey nicey on paper doesn't mean it can't be changed. Almost all of my programs have notes and exercises changed because we need to adapt to the athlete. Maybe the athlete can’t perform a single leg deadlift without falling on their face, so we change it to a kickstand deadlift. Whatever works for them. You need to be versatile in order to give the best workout possible to that athlete.
This can apply to many areas of the athlete, but the main one is their sport. Understand the demands of playing a sport like softball and the stress it has on the shoulders. So, maybe not throwing burpees into their workout just to “make it hard.” They are not in there to get a killer workout, they are there to get better for their sport. Sometimes coaches forget that.
Understanding these three points is the easy part, applying them is when it gets hard. No, not actually doing it, being consistent is what it’s all about. Every athlete you assess and train, you can’t get lazy and not account for their needs. What I did was put a saying on my computer that says "human first, sport second." I have it there to help me program for what that person needs when looking at their movement patterns and then think about how it will help for the sport. Alongside my computer I keep their assessment sheet right there to constantly look back at everything I assessed. When it comes to adapting, you just need to be competent enough to understand what good movement looks like for that individual. Constantly manipulating to their needs for every exercise is what will separate you from the average coach. Lastly, appreciating their sport is the easiest one. Don’t let their workouts get in the way of their performance, it should be enhancing it. Too many times coaches forget the weight room is not their number one priority, their sport is.
If you didn't get anything besides don’t let a doctor treat you for strep even though you have chickenpox, I’ll take that as a win! Feel free to comment below, would love to hear your thoughts!