The nitty-gritty of extreme sports
Extreme sports are all about pushing boundaries and the professional athletes that take part in these sports are innovators and rule breakers by their very nature. As such, training these athletes can present huge challenges in terms of performance management as their spontaneity, ingenuity and unwillingness to compromise is often what makes them so good at what they do and attempting to harness these traits can result in a weakened performance.
I learned fairly quickly that performance coaching these athletes is often more of an art than a science with great consideration towards each athlete’s individual personality often paying dividend in the long term. This may seem like stating the obvious, but you would be surprised how bogged down in the manipulation of numbers trainers can get – something which does very little to actually improve the athletes performance.
How to work with extreme sports athletes
In my experience extreme sports athletes can hold firm opinions on what works for them, what makes them feel good and what training has worked in the past. Discussing this with the athletes and taking their views in to account is essential to improving their performance. It’s not simply about bettering their athleticism; you need to look at them as a whole person to identify what they need to optimise their performance.
This is often referred to in the fitness industry as creating ‘the performance playground’ which essentially means finding the ideal environment in which the athlete can express and explore their potential. This is not just about getting them to squat more weight in a gym, but actually creating a playground-like environment within snow parks, skate parks, trail centres and dirt jumps and allowing them to express their full capabilities in similar surroundings to those in which they perform.
Pushing extreme sports professionals to their limit
Even though this is a ‘playground’ atmosphere there is still a need for structure – setting goals and outcomes for each session in order to maximise the creative benefits of the group dynamic and also giving them clear direction for their future training.
Being in such an environment with other athletes who are as good as, or even more skilled than themselves, means that all of the athletes push each other towards a better performance. The competitive atmosphere can have a profound effect on ability, pushing athletes to go beyond what they previously thought that they could achieve.
Another essential aspect of the playground is that the athletes can embrace the element of failure without fear, something that allows them to push the standards of their performance to new levels. Watching an athlete stomp a trick in a competition cannot highlight the days, weeks and months of progression, repetition and importantly failed attempts that it takes to finally land a new trick for the cameras. This element of their training is fundamental and builds the foundation for their progression and ultimately their success.
Creating effective training programmes
During their time in the playground the athlete will hopefully identify the shortcomings in their own physical performance. It’s at this point that the fitness trainer can take action by implementing strength training in a bid to improve the areas identified. This is essentially what physiotherapists and fitness trainers are constantly striving for – focusing an athlete’s training to find performance gaps that can then be addressed thoroughly – this is a much more effective method than vaguely training every attribute in a mediocre fashion.
Darren Roberts is a Content writer and high performance manager at Harris and Ross. He specialises in performance management for world class athletes and complex injury management.