How and When To Get Sport Specific


What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions sport specific training? Most people think about using a swinging a resisted golf club, using a weighted baseball or some form of replicating sport with added resistance.

Many coaches today still use these methods, and in theory, it seems reasonable. The truth is research has found using resistance to replicate a specific sport movement isn’t very effective. Throwing a donut on a baseball bat does shown not to improve bat speed. Game play in sports happen at full speed and replicating the motions of sport at anything less than game speed is putting the athletes at a disadvantage and creating unnecessary potential for injury.

Our job as the strength coach is to evaluate our athletes and design a program that enhances the part of the sport they are lacking. That does not mean we are looking to copy the movement seen in sport and add some resistance to it. As strength coaches leave the critiquing of sport technique to the sport coach, we are here to simply empower performance. The first step of creating a specific training plan is to communicate with the sport coach and observe the sport itself. What movements are the athletes required to master to be successful in their sport? Does the sport coach notice a theme of what the athletes are lacking? Building trust here will be crucial down the road.

Now that we have established what movements are used in the sport and where we need to improve it is time to implement the program based on which phase of the year the athlete is in. This article will discuss how to progress from pre-season, in season, and off season and where sport specificity can be used. This is called periodization.

Off season:

Once the sport season is over, the most important thing is to allow the athletes to rest and recover for a week or two. After those few weeks of recovery the off season should be focused on getting the athlete faster, stronger, and more resilient. For youth athletes we typically follow a linear program designed to build a base level of strength, power, and speed. This segment of the program sees more traditional movement patterns and less sport specific work. This doesn’t mean the athletes can’t pick up a ball during their off season but the focus should be on getting stronger and faster.


Pre Season:

This is the time of the year where athletes and coaches are starting to excited about the upcoming season. It is our job as the coach to make sure the athletes are ready to roll for that first practice, game, etc. Programming shouldn’t change drastically here, we still want to lift heavy and sprint fast. Changes made should be in conjunction with what we have evaluated from observing the sport and talking with the sport coach. Does the sport demand change of direction? Now we can transform the sprints we have been doing in the off season to a shuttle drill, box drill, or a similar drill that will improve change of direction. Pre season should also be a time where we allow the athlete to practice there sport more. Allowing them to do this during weight room time doesn’t mean your a sport coach now. You are simply giving the athlete the opportunity to practice there sport, that is the goal. Resist the urge to correct sport technique and leave that to the sport coach. Small tweaks like these in the pre-season will keep the athlete progressing and primed for the upcoming season.

In Season:

The season has now started, and yes, athletes should still be in the weight room. Seasons are lasting longer and a proper in season program is crucial for long term athlete development. As a coach our number one job in season is to keep the athlete healthy. If the athlete can’t play they can’t help the team. This doesn’t mean we avoid lifting weights.

The most crucial part of the in season program is going to be lifting weights and hitting our major movements. The things we need to monitor in season is overall training volume. Making sure we are keeping the volume low but the intensity high to maintain our base level of strength we built in the off season. We also back off our sport specific work. The reason why is because they are getting a heavy does of sport specific work in season during practice. In season is all about recovery and hitting our primal movements and getting back to the sport.

Bottom Line:

It is easy to fall into the trap of replicating sport movements in the weight room and although it does look sexy on your instagram page it isn’t whats best for your athletes. Focus on sticking to the basics, mastering your movements, and making a few tweaks/adding play time into the pre season phase to maximize the athlete's performance.  


Shelton grew up in Pocatello and was active in multiple sports growing up. After high school he played offensive tackle at Weber State University. While at WSU he received a degree in Human Performance Management and a minor in Nutrition. Shelton then moved back to Pocatello and received a masters degree in physical education from Idaho State University while working as a GA and volunteer strength coach. Through this education process Shelton also earned his CSCS and is USAW Level 1 sports performance coach.

Currently, Shelton is the lead trainer at HansenAthletics and has been applying principles of HansenAthletics with both the general population and youth sport athletes.