Specialists vs. Generalists

Image courtesy of m3design.com
Image courtesy of m3design.com


Today’s Guest Post is written by Ryan Segelke of High-Altitude Tennis. Enjoy!

Throughout my training career, I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to work with many ambitious athletes that have gone on to achieve great things in their sport, not to mention their professional lives after they “retire.”  I periodically look back on some athletes that I knew, but did not have the opportunity to work with.  Some in particular, could have achieved more (at least in the athletic arena), but were hindered by a couple main things: lack of love for the game, or perhaps their program hindered their potential.

Does this mean I know everything and they would have been able to turn professional if they worked with me?  Certainly not.  But I cannot help to periodically think about these athletes that did not seem to reach their full potential and wonder “what if?”  Below is just one of my recommendations on how to allow your child to maximize their athletic potential:

Work With A Specialist

By working with a specialist, I mean find a complete program that has everything your child will need to have the best chance to achieve their athletic goals – and whose sole focus is just that.  If you program is not complete or is focused on many different things other than your child’s development, and you have to outsource aspects such as a fitness trainer, sports psychologist or nutritionist, make sure you do your do diligence and ensure they are a specialist in their field.

Far too often, I have seen families settle for a generalist rather than seeking out and working with a specialist.  At least in the fitness training realm, a generalist will typically work at a club and work with anyone that will pay them for their services.  They could train a 60 year old man with the goal of stress relief at 4 pm, a 45 year old woman that wants to lose 30 pounds at 5 pm, and then your child for tennis at 6 pm.  Does this make sense?  Is this trainer really specializing and devoting all of their time to developing the best tennis players?  Or are they just taking on any person that will pay them, regardless of that person’s goals?

When searching for a fitness trainer for your child’s tennis, I would suggest asking these questions (and similar ones) to ensure you are picking the best:

  • How long have they focused on training tennis players only?
  • What sort of education do they have? Do they have any tennis specific training education?
  • What are some of their results? Can they furnish exact results of what they have helped the athletes they train achieve?

Do not be afraid to ask the tough questions, challenge their assertions and take a hard look at your child’s program.  Realistically, your child only gets one opportunity to play tennis as a junior.  It would be a shame to look back and wonder, “what if?”

2 thoughts on “Specialists vs. Generalists

  1. What difference does it make? Your child is not going to be a pro. There are very few scholarships available, especially for boys. Even if he or she does get a D1 scholarship the practice and match schedule is so intense their academics will take a back seat. The Ivy Leaguer who just won the Northeast ITA’s is for all intents and purposes a pro. He has played over 50 pro tournaments and played Davis Cup 4 times for Lithuania.

  2. The difference can be substantial and long lasting. Fitness trainers are a common as tennis coaches, and most are not nearly as good as they claim.

    When you entrust your child to a fitness trainer, you open the door to lots of possibly career ending injuries. And yes, I agree that 99.99% will not play pro, but I regard junior tennis as a career since they are dedicating so much of their time, and themselves to the sport.

    To the novice, a poor trainer is difficult to discern from a good trainer. If we knew a lot about it, we wouldn’t need to pay someone would we? That being said, you can do your research and lessen the risk by determining what professional certifications would be needed to achieve the results you seek. There is a huge difference between training an elite adult athlete, and an elite junior athlete, and the specialized knowledge that will achieve results for your child, while minimizing the risk of injury is not intuitive. It is learned and maintained through applied coursework, hands-on experience, and continuing education.

    Where I find the above article wanting, is in its blythe presumption a trainer who works with many sub-sets of client cannot provide outstanding expertise in the specialties that they offer. No one can be expert in everything, but many trainers can, and do, choose several areas in which to focus.

    One such example is my wife. She has been a professional trainer for more than 20-years, and has worked with individual professional athletes in golf and baseball, as well as being the only female trainer hired by the NY Yankees for plyometrics and agility, to work in their Tampa facility. She also works with middle-aged and elderly post rehabilitation patients after serious operations or medical conditions. As well, as maintaining a thriving personal training business for those who want to achieve everything from improved fitness, to weight loss, to muscle mass increase. For each of these, she took multiple nationally recognized professional certification courses and maintains the CEUs necessary to remain proficient and have access to the latest relevant information.

    When our daughter was 10, we sent her to a local academy with a coach who was marvelous at teaching technique, and less than marvelous at fitness. He allowed one of his students who was just breaking into the WTA to have her fiance do the fitness training for the kids in return for a reduction in fees. My wife watched a couple sessions, and politely asked that our daughter not participate in fitness there, as we would take care of it ourselves. The reason was that the exercises and drills that the “trainer” was putting the kids through were not suitable for developing bodies. The head coach did ask more questions, and she told him that they were really putting the kids at risk by letting this person do their fitness training. About a month later two kids came down with patella tendonitis, and another had a lower back issue. Not coincidence.

    The head coach then asked my wife to help. She did, but only after spending many hours in additional education to insure she was competent herself. In parallel, she undertook to get certified in tennis-specific training methods, to maximize the training benefits for the kids.

    I go through all this explanation to reinforce my earlier statement that just because a trainer works with a diverse clientele, they shouldn’t be disqualified out of hand. Ask the relevant questions and then check the answers. For junior tennis, it might look like:

    What age clients do you work with for tennis?
    What tennis-specific training certifications do you hold?
    What other certifications do you hold?
    Look them up and see if they are relevant.
    Are your certifications current?
    Do you have liability insurance?
    Get a copy and call the company to verify it’s in effect.
    What references can you provide from families of other tennis players?
    Call them. Don’t presume that they are going to say good things.
    What facilities have you worked for in the past?
    References are great, but a lot can be learned by calling former employers too. While they
    may not be willing to give you the full story, simply asking “would you let him/her train your
    kid?” will tell you a lot.

    Whether my kid will be a pro, a scholarship athlete, or just a rec player, doesn’t lessen the importance of choosing very carefully, those professionals into whose care I entrust my child. A bad tennis coach might result in a crappy forehand, but a bad fitness trainer can result in a chronic injury that will impact your kid for life.

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