January 22, 2011 by Gary McCoy
I’m hearing the term “Generalist” bantered about by a few practitioners as “The Way” for athlete training- and before I commented – I really want to understand the terminology.
Defined as One who has “Broad general knowledge and skills in several areas”, it varies from a specialist defined as “One who is devoted to a particular occupation or branch of study or research”. Medical Models move patients from generalists- to specialists when the problem is more intricate than the generalist’s skills permit.
Generalization can be viewed in two ways- by the program design- “just teach an athlete to run better- jump higher- move better” or it may be the professional who is knowledgable in many sports- yet has mastered none.
The first problem with any professional who states any one -single practice method is the answer- has lost sight of the goal of individualized athlete performance. It’s like saying that one size fits all- or one cure for all disease… generalist approaches are not the answer for all sports- or all athletes- all year round.
To a degree- generalization is where all athletes, and strength- conditioning and performance coaches start. Following a certain period- mainly due to interest, empathy, skill or circumstance- a specialist path is born.
I have become a specialist in baseball. I specialize in the sport- and on the athletes playing the sport. I study tirelessly the bioenergetics of the game, the musculoskeletal demands, the injury statistics, the common injury paths, review training and volume loads organizations imply, and also- look at the international success of the Japanese and emerging Korean athletes. Distilling it down to two primary tasks- as a baseball specialist – I do the following:
1. I focus on the needs of the individual athlete. All my athletes have different positions and workloads in a baseball lifestyle. This is a one sided sport that creates many imbalances. With over 500 professional games, 100 International Tournament games, I have worked dynamically with players to assess their individual musculoskeletal imbalances, and the contribution of these imbalances to performance deficit and injury. We can never ignore imbalance in a rotational single sided sport.
2. I understand the needs of the game. I have worked with great instructors- managers- and coaches. I have coached- been coached and played at a high level of competition. This empathy and known sport demands have enabled the development of programs that provide explosive power- adding miles to fastballs- adding bat speed- and managing the endurance specifics of a 162 game schedule. You can’t be a good mechanic if you don’t know what the machine is designed to do.
A generalist approach does not work for elite athletes year round. For me- general conditioning is valid in the period following corrective exercise- the Third Pase in the Off season Performance program. This lasts about 4 weeks in total- wedged between the CEx and the Deceleration Strength Phase. If I was to take a generalist approach year-round- I’d do my athletes a disservice. Imagine generalist workloads without knowledge and application to the season- individual athlete- position demands?
Training is cumulative- and consistent generalized training will negate the opportunity to build conditioned specific mechanical response from an athlete.
For generalists- the adage fits: “If you don’t know where you are going… any road will take you there”.
Hire a generalist when you need the basics. Hire a specialist when you need more.