A strength and conditioning coach job is to make athletes better. Making athletes better means improving their performance and reducing their risk of injury. But the big question is: which one comes first? Which one is really more important than the other?
As in many things, I will give the ‘it depends’ answer. It depends on the age of the athlete, his level, his current inury situation, the amount of time he spends practicing and playing his sport, etc. There is simply a ton of factors to consider, and I would advise you take all of them in great consideration.
It might be tough sometimes to achieve a good balance of both injury prevention and sport-specificity in an athlete’s program. The reason I say that is because you need to consider this: A LOT OF ATHLETES (IF NOT MOST OF THEM) SPEND WAY TOO MUCH TIME PRACTICING THEIR SPORT. And it starts at younger ages nowadays than ever before. Kids start playing their sport year-round and specializing in only one sport at a very young age. What it does is put repeated stress on the same muscles and joints and always in the same way; this is exactly what leads to overuse injuries over time and why so many athletes get injured all the time. And the situation just gets worse and worse as the athlete gets older and reaches higher levels (college, junior, pro).
Taking that into consideration, do you still want to be as sport-specific as possible when it comes to strength and conditioning? Do you still want hockey players to condition on the ice during the off-season? Do you still want to have basketball players perform a lot of plyometrics/jumps in their training? I think you get the idea…
To some extent, you want to use training to reverse the patterns that are making athletes develop muscle imbalances through the practice of their sport to prevent overuse injuries as much as possible. That being said, if you continually use sport-specific movements for speed & agility, for plyometrics, for weight lifting and for conditioning you’re also probably reinforcing those same imbalances that lead to overuse injuries.
So the big question arise: How much is too much?
Again it depends. The answer will probably be different for a 13 year-old kid trying to make the AAA team and for a 20 year-old guy who has been drafted at the pro level and trying to make the team.
I am all for sport-specific and functional training, but you need to keep in mind that training should also be used to reverse the damage done throughout the practice of the athlete’s sport to keep them healthy in the long run, so they can keep performing as long as possible.
Find a good balance for each and every one of your athletes and make sure they stay healthy in the long run!