Training Different Types of Athletes

After training athletes for the past 10 years, there are a few trends in how you approach different types of athletes.  This is my reflection of a couple of different types:

The Hard Worker

This athlete goes as hard as possible the entire training session and every competition.  They will run through a brick wall if you tell them to.  They jump into everything full speed.  They have no off switch.  Many times, this will carry into everything they do – school, friendships, work, everything.  This is a needed trait for success, and this characteristic and will make the person extremely successful in whatever they do in life.  They are extremely mentally tough when it comes to physical work.  They are not afraid of failure.  They normally get along well with teammates.  However, there are limiting factors to be aware of: poor movement skills, poor reactive ability, poor technical and tactical application.  These athletes go so hard, they turn everything else off, they do not think, they only are focused on working.   There comes a large amount of mental frustration when players who do not appear to work as hard are given more opportunities to compete or when a talented player works as hard and smarter.

With these type of players, things need to slow down a bit mentally, physically, technically, and tactically.  What are they doing, and why?  Is it successful?  If not, why not?  What change/adjustment should be made to accomplish the goal?  These are important processes to make this athlete more successful and reach the next level.  If you are able to make these changes, the athlete will seem to come out of nowhere and completely surprise everybody.

Too Cool

This player is skilled, no doubt.  They are smooth, timely, and overall pretty confident.  They stay within themselves and stay within their skill set, and use it to a high level.  Mistakes usually do not lead to a lack of confidence and they and fairly consistent.  However, their approach to training prevents them from reaching the highest goals:  they do not want to get outside their comfort zone.  They know what they are good at and will stay at their tempo and will rarely work on new skills as they may feel their superior skill status will be questioned.  They may get visibly frustrated when a lesser skilled player outworks them or they just may laugh it off, not taking the opposition seriously.  When they do lose, blame often goes to someone else and they cannot accept that they need to be better.  Although the high confidence level is a positive, their inability to push themselves outside their comfort zone will limit their overall potential create chemistry problems with teammates and coaches who value hard work.

The key challenge here is to get the athlete to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  This likely will start with small challenges to break the person down a bit, but over time build that person back up so they can realize progress and accept that mistakes are a part of getting better, and the only way to do that is to work on newer, more complex skills and at a higher tempo.  Getting this type of player to work hard consistently and you will have an athlete that is extremely hard to beat.

The Overthinker

This person is too analytical too often, does not know how to shut the brain off and just play, and is hyper-aware of everything going on in the environment and how they may be perceived by others.  After mistakes, this person’s performance plummets as they start to overthink things and become aware of negative thoughts and feelings others may have towards the mistakes made.  However, these athletes are usually very technically and tactically developed.  The key to this person is to teach them how to get into the flow and ‘turn off’ the brain, and react.  They need to learn to find their Ideal Zone of Optimal Performance (IZOF), have proper visualization for pre-, during, and post competition, and have a well rehearsed mistake recovery method to allow them to just ‘play.’  Keep things with this athlete as simple as is NEEDED.  Do not oversimplify, this will drive them crazy.  If they are able to learn to just go out and play, their game will go to a whole new level.

The Pretender

This athlete drives teammates and coaches crazy.  The athlete thinks highly of his/her own abilities, but the abilities are clearly lacking.  This normally is a product of something from the social circle (parents, peers off the court) or they are simply not in touch with reality.  The athlete has no idea what it takes to be successful in the chosen sport, and does not understand why he/she is not a focal point of the team.  This becomes even more frustrating when the parent of this athlete tries to lecture you on their superiority to teammates.  In these situations, I have invited the parent or player to watch a training or film of a training to walk them through my thought processes and what I am looking for and what I need.  Be careful:  the parent or player may not be ready for what you are about to say, and may completely lash out at you as an incompetent coach.  Reality checking can create issues within the team and athletic administration, especially if this person is a sponsor who gives a lot of money, and may even cost you your job.  Proceed with caution, but if the pretender cannot get into touch with reality, the person should not be on the team.

The Consistent Improver

This is a rare breed that improves skill quickly.  They usually have competed in multiple sports at a high level.  This leads these athletes to have GREAT movement maps (e.g. they move very well, very smooth) and great multiple sport tactical application.  They can see something and do it fairly quickly.  They react extremely well.  They can apply concepts without overthinking.  They understand new things take time and will work through failures.  They will consistently push themselves outside the comfort zone, but if mistakes pile up too consistently, they will take it down a notch to feel things out, make the appropriate adjustments, and bring the tempo back up.  If any adjustments need to be made, it is usually to get them to go at a higher tempo than normal consistently, but they understand the reason behind it and will listen.  Once the high tempo becomes a habit, watch out.

Summary

Different athletes need different approaches to their training.  Be aware of where they are at emotionally, mentally, physically, technically, and tactically to make the appropriate adjustment that will hone into what the athlete needs at the present moment.  By no means are these classifications scientific (although they are based on scientific principles that are not discussed) or comprehensive, and athletes may show different characteristics at different times.  The goal is to create an athlete that will work hard, work smart, respond properly to feedback, able to self-regulate, and will compete at a high level consistently at a high tempo.

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