Skill/Athletic Performance Pyramid

I’ve seen slightly different versions of this image from a few different sources, but decided to make a poor man’s version in Paint instead. What’s (poorly) illustrated below is the optimal balance that must take place for anyone planning to develop a skill. As an example, for 3 years I helped manage two different baseball academies and coached anywhere from 20-30 hours of lessons/group training each week. I then played and helped coach for 2 years in Europe and Australia. What I noticed across the board was that the best athletes (ie the ones with huge bases of foundation strength, the best movers, the kids who could somersault, roll, bear crawl, do handstands, hang, sprint, cut, and decelerate, among other things) were not always the best ballplayers (or most skilled), but were able to develop their skill much more quickly, safely, and their overall strength allowed them to actually perform well without necessarily having the skill to back it up initially. I also saw the flip side – “academy kids” (see second image) who were highly skilled but could not perform very simple athletic movements but played 150 games per year on 3 different teams (and we wonder why there’s a shoulder/elbow injury epidemic). This demographic was obsessed with the short-term and completely threw caution into the wind in terms of long-term health or the necessary steps in the development process. ⠀

Moral of this entire post? Get stronger and skill improves regardless. Don’t train skill without having a base upon which to grow, as strength is the limiting factor in every movement. When your foundation improves, everything above it becomes more solid. And if you’re going to sign your kid up for private lessons, make sure he/she can balance on one leg, squat, bend, rotate, and push/pull all while breathing through their nose, or else you’re better off throwing your money into a volcano.

My interpretation of this “Performance Pyramid” is that the optimal athlete/mover trains with the intent to develop the following abilities (in order of importance):

  1. Foundation of Strength (primarily strength-endurance and quality of movement in areas such as squatting, stepping, lunging, pressing, reaching, etc.)
  2. Functional Movement (performance level of foundational movements, such as how much output/force is produced in a squat, 40-yard-dash time, vertical jump, etc.)
  3. Skill (“knack” or actual ability to perform a skill or sport)
Sports Performance Pyramid
Optimal – Skill built upon large foundation of functional movement and even larger base of foundation strength.  Most likely to perform a skill safely and to be able to dedicate as much time as possible to train skill to reach elite levels.
Sports Performance Pyramid Skill
Very skilled, poor foundation – Highly developed amount of skill built upon a very poor athletic base.  Most likely to suffer injuries due to lack of strength endurance, not training to correct imbalances caused by performing skill, etc.  (Sadly is very common due to the “private lesson” and “travel team” epidemic in youth sports, as we’re seeing highly skilled but un-athletic children.
SPM Func
Skilled and able to move functionally, but poor foundation – Highly skilled and able to perform at a high level in performance-based tests of maximal strength, but very low levels of foundational strength/strength-endurance.  Injury is highly likely and is usually surprising since the athlete “looks” strong, but actually just functions well despite poor base/foundation.
SPM No Skill
Great foundation and functional movement, no skill – Me at basketball.  A coach’s dream.  Hard worker, strong, fast, resilient, excellent at picking up towels and handing out waters to the taller and more skilled players.  Could safely spend hours upon hours practicing to develop the skills required to perform sport at elite level (if I wasn’t 5’8″).

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