Many of you reading this are going to get offended. Crossfitters, bodybuilders powerlifters, etc, stop calling yourself athletes!
“But bro, I have a triple bodyweight squat.”
My response, “Who cares? Your knees would explode from a broad jump.”
Anyone who competes in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, crossfit, bodybuilding and any other “strength sport” is not an athlete, however athletic they may look. I will give it to you, some of these people are the most athletic looking people in the world, but they just aren’t athletes. Their training can be some of the most grueling, intense training you will ever witness. However, there are a number of variables missing from their training to consider them an athlete.
There is even a point of diminishing returns of strength when it comes to most athletes and their sports. Look at the best dunkers in the NBA or the best NFL receivers; do they have 40 “ verticals because they have a 3x BW squat?
Is walking across a stage in a banana hammock athletic? Even if you have a 58” chest 36” waist and 22” quads?
Since college I have had this conversation with many other coaches and clients in the industry. What constitutes a sport, and what’s the difference between being an athlete and being athletic?
Well the dictionary has one definition, your body has another definition, and I also have an opinion of my own.
Let me explain. The dictionary says sport is “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other.” This is pretty simple to comprehend; however, during an elite level chess match the body has a similar hormonal reaction to physical sport. Adrenalin and norepinephrine elevate your blood pressure for even days after a big match. It also has a set of rules and people compete against each other, so why is it not a sport? It wouldn’t be considered a sport because there is no physical activity, even though the hormones in you body say differently. There is a lack of apparent physicality, even if your body is registering it the same way.
Now comes my opinion. I think it is important to clear the air. Training between sport and competition differs greatly. This difference is crucial for understanding how to train an athlete verses a competitor.
A sport, by definition, should be anything that requires defense, and playing that sport makes you an athlete. There must be an element of physicality to it. Thus, bringing in the reactive component to the mix. Without this it is clearly just a competition, and 99% of the challenge is that competition against your self.
Let’s use some other examples. When you run in a track meet you are only capable of running the absolute fastest you can run. If the guy next to you can run faster there is nothing you can do, only hope and pray he or she is about to trip.
Take competitive cheerleading and gymnastics, they practice 1,000s of hours to produce their best performance and then can loose due to observational judges. This doesn’t take away from the fact that these men and women are some of the most athletic people I have ever seen.
Now lets take soccer. Soccer requires you to play defense against a person or persons to prevent the ball from advancing or scoring. You have to actively try and prevent scoring. This is the key point in recognizing the difference between sport and competition.
Now I know this will cause uproar, but if you consider the training, it is all too clear. Sports, real sports, require a litany of explosive reactive training that forces you in and out of uncomfortable positions of the body. It is a constant reaction to an outside force or stimulus. You have to be an athlete, and most of the time the more athletic you are the more successful athlete you can become.
Competition on the other hand does not require any of this. Powerlifting, running (short and long distance), CrossFit, swimming, and the majority of Olympic “sports” are all the same. You do not have to be an athlete to compete and be successful, you just have to be athletic, and in some cases you don’t even have to be the latter. I mean, have you seen some of the powerlifters and marathon runners!? I have literally walked outside in the middle of a USAPL meet to find 1-3 guys smoking a cigarette, in between lifts!
Now I am not out to say elite level marathon runners, powerlifters, crossfit-ers, swimmers have an easier training regiment, I am just saying it is a much different regiment.
A lot of what I do with my athletes is to work to make them comfortable being uncomfortable. With competition everything is predicable. If you’re swimming, you swim in a straight line, if you run the 800, it’s two laps in a circle. Even a highly complex gymnastics routine requires thousands of hours of practice for it to become the most predictable and require the least amount of thinking. That’s the point of practicing it right?
Now take hockey, when you step on that ice you have no idea how the game will play out or what the requirements will be on your body. Basketball, tennis, baseball and the majority of other ball sports require you to change approach and responses in milliseconds.
As a strength coach, it is required for us to know the differences in sport and competition from a biomechanical and energy requirement standpoint. It is also good for us to know the difference, so we can apply things like the SAID principle to our training. I use the term athlete verses athletic to describe the requirements of that training. Bottom line, competitors shouldn’t be offended when they aren’t referred to as athletes.