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Developing athleticism: It’s a project for the CNS

12/13/2018, 10:30am CST
By Jack Blatherwick, Let's Play Hockey Columnist

Challenging the central nervous system (CNS = brain + spinal cord) is the highest priority for young athletes. Metabolic, muscular, and cardiovascular adaptations are byproducts.


Athleticism is the synergistic combination, not the sum of isolated pieces. Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Success in hockey and many other sports is achieved by combining: a) sport-specific skill, b) read-react creativity and c) athleticism – speed, quickness, agility, coordination, explosive strength, instantaneous reactions – and the specific endurance to maintain those qualities.

As athletes mature and reach elite levels, they often decide that improvement of athleticism is not as important as it was when they were young, so training priorities shift to weight training and slow aerobic exercise. Therefore, children and adolescents should not be concerned with how the pros train now, but how they developed elite athleticism when they were young.  

History tells a different story than what is recommended in Long-Term Athlete Development Models (LTADs & ADMs). Throughout history, great athletes put it all together as children and adolescents: They played fast-moving sports. They didn’t isolate strength from speed and agility, nor did they train core muscles separately from muscles that moved limbs.  

There was no ADM model that advocated training for speed, strength and endurance in different years. And fitness gurus – each selling one piece of the puzzle – didn’t arrive on the scene until later.  

Michael Jordan was not the fastest, nor did he jump the highest, although he was fast and jumped high. He had amazing skills, endurance and quickness, but was not the very best in each of these areas either. He was the best COMBINATION.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, the more the central nervous system is challenged by the COMBINATION of athletic elements, the more likely the result will be an athlete like Jordan, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky or Connor McDavid. Children must put it all together. Play!

It’s not good enough to be fast, strong and agile. These factors must function at just the right moment during chaotic competition when a roadblock presents itself without warning. That’s athleticism. It’s when the reaction is coordinated and smooth – almost unnoticeable – because the athlete maintains balance and speed throughout the unplanned adjustment.

Isolating strength workouts from speed, agility and random adjustments makes it less likely the result will be another wide receiver like Larry Fitzgerald. He sprints fast, cuts quickly, sprints again, looks over one shoulder only to find the ball coming to the other side. So he turns his head, jumps high and catches the ball one-handed while being tackled by the defender. Athletic attributes must fit the random requirements of the game.  

How did Fitzgerald develop athleticism?  

He played other sports, including basketball. It’s unlikely that we will produce athleticism like that in the future if we isolate the different pieces of the puzzle on different days – or different years, as one might infer from the ADM.  


Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  News  Jack Blatherwick