Why There is No Consensus on the Definition of an Athlete


The word “athlete” is a romanization of the Greek word άθλητὴς, athlētēs, meaning one who participates in a contest, which is derived from ἂθλος, áthlos, or ἂθλον, áthlon, meaning a contest or feat, or prize. (Chambers 20th Century Dictionary, 2014) The Ancient Olympic Games, held between 776AD to 393AD, were the athletic competition highlight of Greek culture and the word athlete became synonymous with Olympic victory. (IOC, 2019) The Roman ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body was exemplified in Olympic competition. The complete first line from the Roman poet Juvenal’s Satire X, however, says, “orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano (You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body) thought to suggest that the praying for a long life was misguided because the Roman gods had provided Roman citizens with virtues listed in the subsequent lines of the poem. (Young, 2005)

A healthy mind in a healthy body took on its meaning relative to sports and physical training in the modern era in the mid-19th century by the Liverpool (UK) Athletic Club to promote the rigorous academic and physical training of a complete education. Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic games and founder of the International Olympic games, modified the dualist expression to the maxim, “Mens fervida in corpore lacertoso” which means “Fighting spirit in muscular body.” The current Olympic movement hearkens back to the Greek and Roman ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body, stressing the importance of physical health through elite performance. Since then, a healthy mind in a healthy body has been adopted by numerous athletic organizations as a representation of the Olympic ideal for athletes.

Recently, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) posited that the outcome goal of athletics should be to “develop healthy, capable and resilient young athletes, while attaining widespread, inclusive, sustainable and enjoyable participation and success for all levels of individual athletic achievement.” (Bergeron et al, 2015). The National Strength and Conditioning Position Statement on Long-term Athletic Development (LTAD), delineates athleticism within an LTAD framework as the “ability to repeatedly perform a range of movements with precision and confidence in a variety of environments, which require competent levels of motor skills, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and endurance.” (Lloyd et al, p. 1491). Athleticism is not a short-term product but rather a long-term process and there exists a need to adopt an evidence-supported approach to LTAD. (Lloyd et al, p. 1491).  It is crucial that all stakeholders in youth development, from strength and conditioning coaches to personal trainers, teachers, parents, and medical professionals, adopt a systematic approach to long-term athletic development for youth of all ages, abilities, and aspirations.” (Invited Review, Part 1, p. 143)

Take Home Point

Broadening the definition of athlete to include everyone who has a body re-frames research and practical application of physical literacy on the inclusionary process of being an athlete, defining athleticism and measuring athletic qualities within the holistic long-term athletic development model for youth. (Smithson, 2019, Aspen Institute, 2016)


Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program. Sport for all play for life: a playbook to get every kid in the game. January 27, 2015. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/sport-all-play-life-playbook-get-every-kid-game/ Retrieved July 2, 2019.

Bergeron MF, Mountjoy M, Armstrong N, Chia, M., Cote, J., Emery, C., Faigenbaum, A., Hall, G., Kriemler, S., …Engebretsen, L.  International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development Br J Sports Med 2015;49:843–851.

Lloyd, RS, Oliver, JL, Faigenbaum, AD, Howard, R, De Ste Croix, MB, Williams, CA, Best, TM, Alvar, BA, Micheli, LJ, Thomas, DP, Hatfield, DL, Cronin, JB, and Myer, GD. Long-term athletic development—Part 1: A pathway for all youth. J Strength Cond Res 29: 1439–1450, 2015.

Lloyd RS, Cronin JB, Faigenbaum AD, Haff GG, Howard R, Kraemer WJ, et al. National strength and conditioning association position statement on long-term athletic development. J Strength Cond Res 30: 1491–1509, 2016.

Smithson, M. Nike Inc’s Mission Statement and Vision Statement (An Analysis). Panmore Institute http://panmore.com/nike-inc-vision-statement-mission-statement  Retrieved July 24, 2019.

Young, D. Mens sana in corpore sano? Body and mind in ancient Greece, The International Journey of the History of Sport, 22(1), 22-41, 2005.

Revolutions not Resolutions! 3 Revolutionary Ideas in Youth Sports and Fitness

It’s time for a revolution! My favorite definition of revolution is “a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving.” Let’s focus on creating a revolution in how we think about improving the youth sports and fitness climate for our kids through physical activity, physical education, play, and sports.

This year I am challenging myself (and my friends, colleagues, conference attendees, and students) to use a clean slate when thinking, writing, coaching, and organizing youth sports and fitness. Here are 3 “revolutionary” ideas to start the conversation:

  1. Ask the kids. This mantra has been in the forefront of much of what I write. A Socratic approach may actually help us help kids discover what they like to play, how they like to exercise, and might even introduce us to a revolutionary way to do it we haven’t even thought of. We frequently call out video games as the enemy but video game makers always ask the kids how to keep them engaged.
  2. Rethink how sports are played. We say that kids are not miniature adults, yet our entire sports structure is exactly that model. Look at the most popular youth sports and check the history of the game. They were created to introduce kids to the adult game but with smaller equipment, shorter seasons (at least way back when), and a progressive development of skills. How then did club teams, travel teams, elite teams, year-round participation, and other adult-driven concepts enter the sports structure? Whatever happened to making the experience youth-centric? Why not bring back Field Day and other fun ways for kids to gain skills?
  3. Focus on the correct outcome. Do we really want U-8 champs, sports specialization at the expense of positive youth development, or burnout, injury, and disinterest in playing sports to be the outcome? Or, should we focus on a structure that helps youngsters develop athleticism; love of physical activity, play, and sports; and the ability to be healthy and active for the rest of their lives? Kids say having fun, giving effort, and getting playing time are their favorite things about youth sports. How do we give all that to them?


At a time where 97% of all kids play video games (99% boys and 94% girls), childhood obesity is the number one health concern among parents, and sports participation is now less than 37% (and dropping precipitously in baseball, basketball, football, and soccer in the US), we need to seriously rethink how we can engage our youth in being physically active. Let’s start the revolution!



“Run ‘Em ‘Til They Puke!”


How simple is it for a coach to run players until they feel nauseous or actually get sick? This takes no coaching ability, discourages kids from participating, and gives sports a bad name. Not only that, it’s a poor method of conditioning and a bad example of coaching. Anyone can make athletes sick—the real question is, can you make them better?!

Improving performance takes an understanding of pediatric exercise science, growth and development, and pedagogy, in order to plan and implement a strength and conditioning program for kids of a broad range of abilities, varying levels of interest in being there, and wide-ranging parental expectations. Too often we witness parents who pull their kids from programs because they feel the coach isn’t punishing the kids into shape. WRONG!

A well-designed strength (oh, by the way- I do keep using the term strength, as strength and motor skill development are inexorably linked, and strength and motor skill mastery are what lead to athleticism) and conditioning (yes, speed, agility, endurance, power and balance are essential, too) program includes the following elements:

  • Focus on the process of developing aspiring athletes to perform to the best of their ability
  • Structured coaching plan from A to B to C
  • Periodized (matches sport seasons and performance goals) plan and includes progressions and regressions (taking a 30-second plank to a 2-minute- to a 5-minute plank is NOT a progression!)
  • Capable, qualified, credentialed coach with not just experience working with kids but a passion for doing so

So, “run ‘em’ til they puke!” is one of the worst things coaches can do (yelling, using exercise as punishment, and not paying attention to technique are also high on the list of bad coaching). Be sure to ask coaches to share their performance plan, their coaching philosophy, and their professional development experiences before entrusting your kids to them.

ABCs of Movement: Develop Fundamental Movement Skills

Once the ABCs of movement have been established, we can start the process of applying the ABCs. The foundation of this process is developing fundamental movement skills. Fundamental movement skills are those movements that have been identified to support movement mastery. There are a couple ways to differentiate these skills but this one seems to be the most common: Body Management (Part of the ABCs), Locomotor Skills, and Object Control.

This table delineates which motor skill corresponds to which category:

Body Management– ability to balance your body while still, and in motion Locomotor– transport body in any direction Object Control– controlling implements
Balance (dynamic) Crawling Bouncing
Balance (static) Dodging Catching
Bending Galloping Dribbling (feet/hands)
Climbing Hopping Kicking
Landing Jumping (distance/height) Striking
Rolling Leaping Throwing
Stopping Running  
Stretching Skipping  
Swinging Swimming  
Turning Walking  


Of these fundamental motor skills, eleven have been identified as most essential for transfer to sports skills: Bouncing a ball, catching, dodging, forehand striking, kicking, leaping, overhand throwing, punting, running, two-hand side-arm striking, and vertical jumping. Be sure to incorporate these skills regularly in your sports practice and strength and conditioning program.

Fundamental movement skills and muscle strength are inexorably linked, so it is important to include strength training for all youth programs. Calculating maximum loads is inappropriate for beginning exercisers of any age. While there are prediction tables based off of the number of repetitions that can be completed (5, 8, or 10 repetitions, for example), the NUMBER of reps is not nearly as important as the QUALITY of the repetitions. I like using the 1-10 Scale RPE. Find a beginning weight that gives an RPE of 4-6. I have found that one set of nine exercises (rotating lower, core, upper) works best.

The ABCs of Movement: Cardinal Planes of Motion

We know that for fitness and athletic endeavors we can use the Athletic stance as our reference starting point. From this position, we can observe how the displacement of a limb, repositioning of the Body or a limb, or movement from the athletic stance affects the center of gravity in relation to the original base of support.

The C in the ABCs of Movement is the Cardinal Planes of Movement, which helps us identify in which direction(s) we are moving, what joint(s) of the body are being acted upon, the muscles responsible for the joint actions, and the awareness that we need to program movements in all three planes of motion.

The following table shows the three cardinal planes of motion, how they are defined in relation to the body, primary joint actions, and sample movements in that plane:

Cardinal Plane of Motion How the Plane is Defined Primary Joint Action(s) Sample Movements in the Plane
Sagittal · Divides body in left and right halves

· Movement occurs primarily forward and back

· Flexion (two joints getting closer together)

· Extension (the return from flexion)

· Walking

· Running

· Squatting

·  Nodding

Frontal aka Coronal · Divides body in front and back halves

· Movement occurs primarily side to side or to the side

· Abduction- movement of limb(s) away from the midline of the body

· Adduction- return from abduction

· Lateral flexion- movement of head or trunk to one side or the other

·Side bends

· Side steps

· Arm flapping (airplanes)

· Putting in golf

· Pitching a baseball

Transverse aka Horizontal · Divides body in top and bottom halves

· Movement occurs primarily across the horizon

·Rotation trunk, hip, and/or shoulder · Swinging a bat


· Flyes

· Cable Rotation



Movement programming would be easy if we moved in one and only one plane but that is most often not the case. This provides the strong argument to train movements, not muscles. I agree to an extent, but as with everything in strength and conditioning—it depends! Our task is to understand on what it depends in order to make the best programming decisions for our clients/athletes.

Since we are focusing on the ABCs of movement, the movements I choose to focus on are single-planar and start form the athletic stance. Once we master single-planar movements, we can progress to moving in two and then any combination of planes. The goal is movement mastery, which includes physical, cognitive, and proprioceptive components. Our next segment on the ABCs of Movement is on Developmental Progressions.

The ABCs of Movement: Body Management

The ABCs of movement begin with the Athletic Stance. The athletic stance helps us establish our starting position. But, it does more than that—it helps us understand and recognize where our body segments are in relation to other body parts and where our body is in space, which is body management.

Starting from the athletic stance, raise your right hand. How did that change your center of gravity? How did you adjust? Move your feet farther apart. How did that affect your center of gravity? How much effort does it take to sit and stand? How do you swing your arms without coming in contact with anyone else in the room? These are examples of body awareness.

Many movement professionals advise young athletes and those beginning an exercise program to begin with body weight exercises. My recommendation is to be sure they first can understand how their bodies move before instructing an exercise. Once body management is achieved, movement fundamentals are more developmentally appropriate. For some, moving an external object may be more appropriate than trying to move body weight, especially for those that are overweight.

Body management is one of the three categories of fundamental movement skills (locomotor and object control being the other two). There are three types of movement awareness:

  1. Effort awareness: how much muscular effort is needed to initiate, sustain, and stop movement. Examples include climbing, lifting relative (your body) and absolute (external load) weight, stopping, and balancing.
  2. Space awareness: how much personal or shared space is needed for successful movement. Examples include how turning, spinning, and moving with others in a confined space without making contact.
  3. Body awareness: how your body movements relate to other movements around you. Examples include following the leader, raising your arms overhead, and dodging.

Body management skills can be promoted by applying balance, postural control, and equilibrium in a variety of settings using a variety of implements under a variety of conditions, matching the tenets of physical literacy. Physical Literacy is the “mastering of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permits us to read our environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing us to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity situations.”

The application of all three categories of fundamental movement skills will be further discussed in the next segment, The ABCs of Movement: Cardinal Planes.

Came across this older blog and thought I’d share it again! Looking forward to continuing to improve in strongman in 2017!

youth centered sports and fitness

10 Ways Strongman Training Improves Athleticism

Strengthcrew.com is a great site for information on strength training. I recently had this article accepted on their site.

Ten Ways Strongman Training Improves Athleticism

By: Rick Howard, M.Ed, CSCS, *D, USAW

The best definition for athleticism I have seen comes from Vern Gambetta: Athleticism is the ability to execute athletic movements at optimum speed with precision, style and grace in the context of the sport or activity. The interrelated components of athleticism include strength, explosive coordination, energy, flexibility, and endurance. Strongman training can be used to improve these qualities in a linear training model either during general physical preparation (off-season training) for athletes of other sports,  as sport-specific training (late off-season to early pre-season), or as strongman-specific training. Strongman training has also been incorporated into non-linear models and conjugate training (such as Westside). Whichever way strongman training is implemented, athleticism is enhanced– here…

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Athletic Stance

The ABCs of movement start with the Athletic Stance. If we can’t set up in the right position, how can we expect to move with proficiency?  The athletic stance is the fundamental starting position for athletes in every sport. Not only that, the athletic stance sets the stage for movements in many activities of daily living and exercises in the gym. Check out this quick video for basics of the athletic stance: Athletic Stance

When teaching athletes or beginning exercisers, begin with the athletic stance to help develop:

  • positioning of center of gravity (belly button level, generally) over base of support (arches of feet to balls of feet)
  • awareness of weight distribution between both feet and on the forefoot, midfoot, and hindfoot
  • “soft knees” position to lead to hip hinge pattern
  • “proud chest” to maintain postural control and core activation
  • how moving hand position for athletic stance in a variety of sports (ball-handling sports like basketball and baseball vs stick-handling sports like field hockey and lacrosse, for example) changes the center of gravity, and how hand position for beginning position for a variety of exercises (goblet squat vs  prisoner squat vs zercher squat, for example) changes the center of gravity

This fundamental movement leads us to the letter B.


Set Goals Instead of Making Resolutions

Resolutions don’t work! Resolutions are usually all or nothing. Resolutions are more extrinsically about what you think you should be doing (losing weight, exercising more, etc.) instead of intrinsically about what you want to be doing. Don’t use other people’s expectations to define you in 2017. Since resolutions rarely have personal relevance (are not intrinsically driven), over 75% of resolutions go unfulfilled. The timing may not be right, either. Think about it—the end of the holiday season when things are gearing back up for 2017 may not be the best time to implement New Year’s resolutions.

Instead, set goals. Borrow from Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People— begin with the end in mind. What is it you really want to be able to do? Break that long-term goal into smaller short-term goals. Be SMART– the acronym SMART helps us set goals that are:

Specific—Go to the gym two times per week between Jan 1 and March 31 is specific; exercise more is not.

Measurable—two times per week is measurable—you either went or you didn’t.

Attainable—two times per week is not out of reach for most of us.

Realistic—two times per week also is realistic—most of us can carve out this amount of time (especially since we did not say for how long each visit would be).

Time-bound—between January 1 and March 31 is not only time-bound but adjustable based on current conditions. Perhaps the motivation will be increased by reaching this goal so that April 1- June 30 goal is 3 times per week at east once each month in addition to two times per week the rest of the weeks.wellness-wheel-large

Be sure to look at your overall wellness (see Wellness Wheel above). If your wheel is out of balance, the wheel is flat. What do you have to do in 2017 to balance your life? Which element(s) of your individual wellness have you been neglecting? Prioritize the goals that bring your wellness back into focus.

Remember, goals are more effective than resolutions.  Clear and targeted short-term goals (usually three months or less) connect to your long-term ambitions. Clearly-written goals help increase self-confidence and problem-solving strategies (realizing the path to meeting your goals is not always linear, but may have ups and downs along the way). When setting SMART Goals:

  • Frame your goals in a positive sentence. Write what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do.
  • Set goals that are just beyond your reach, but not far beyond your reach. Having a challenge improves your motivation to achieve the goal
  • Set three goals. This is the number that seems to work best.
  • Write down your goals and post them in a prominent place. Ask someone who can support you in the process to sign off on your goals.
  • Plan for adjusting your goals. Sometimes, the unexpected happens. Have a plan for how you will get back on track.

Plan your reward for reaching each goal and what the next short-term goal will be to reach your long-term goal.  You can do it!

The Olympics and LTAD

The 2016 Summer Olympics celebrate the Olympic ideal of a healthy body and a healthy mind. Looking at the Olympics from the perspective of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD), the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are redefining long-term. Several LTAD models followed research that indicated that in many sports, peak Olympic performance occurs around age 25-27. Then the models back-mapped the developmental stages to get aspiring young athletes from “the playground to the podium.”

With improvements in biomechanical analysis, equipment (including swimming pools ), as well as strength and conditioning (including rest and recovery), many athletes, even at the highest levels of competition, can continue to not only compete in multiple Olympic Games, but win.

Here are a few observations from the Olympics that can help us promote LTAD on the big stage:


Please visit these excellent websites to learn more about LTAD to continue to promote a healthy, physically-active lifestyle, whether your dreams take you to the Olympics or around the block:



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