Sport Specific versus Transfer

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I had a good conversation with a friend the other day. He is heavily involved in developing hockey players through skills and coaching.

He was asking me some questions about the squat and how it pertains to the hockey stride. He pointed out that a lot of hockey players will squat wide but need to be much narrower when they play. He also said that when they load the bar too heavy they are not explosive and do not hit the depths he is trying to teach in his skating.

Does this mean that the athletes should squat with a narrow base to make it more specific?

Sport specific is a buzzword.

If I were to tell you that I have a sport specific program to match the demands of whatever sport it is that you want to train for, chances are I have your attention.

Sport specific training would be sport practices, skill sessions, and games. It does not get more direct than that. Performance training or strength and conditioning should not necessarily be specific to the sport.

This gets taken to the extreme a lot. We see athletes doing ladder drills with skates on and turning cable machines into baseball bats. These efforts are not only a waste of time they are probably going to make the athlete worse at what they do.

I googled sport specific training and got this:


When most people are talking about a sport specific program they are talking about transfer. The efforts we do in the weight room or on the turf should transfer to the sport.

In the example above with my friend, he was confusing specific with transfer. Our athletes that squat are not doing it to improve their hockey stride. They squat to build leg strength and hip mobility to allow them to get into better positions once they hit the ice. Some athletes need to use a wider stance to squat well. Everyone is different and some athletes do not have the structure to squat narrow.

The squat is not a tool to teach the stride it is intended to provide the strength and mobility needed for the sport. It is up to the athlete, coach, or instructor to then refine the hockey stride when the athlete hits the ice. It may not be specific but it definitely transfers.

Any good program should transfer to the sport the athlete plays.

It is also funny that a lot of these “specific” programs look an awful lot like each other.

  • Soccer player- they probably need to squat, hinge, push, pull and do core work. Maybe add in some extra glute work to assist with lower body injury prevention.
  • Baseball player- they probably need to squat, hinge, push, pull, and do core work. Here some extra work for shoulder health would be nice.
  • Hockey- they probably need to squat, hinge, push, pull, and do core work. Often hockey players need a lot of hip mobility work.

For the 3 populations I listed above, the focus of the programs are all the same. The main types of exercises do not change. It’s the 10% of the program that varies and becomes tailored to the sport.

But all of the exercises transfer and they will all make athletes better.

Should baseball players be bench pressing? Probably not but some hockey players should be fine with it. The exercises might change but the skeleton of the program is all the same.

I have had a couple athletes ask me why their program was very similar to someone else’s except for a couple of things. The answer is that if I think that is the best way to get the athlete stronger and faster then why wouldn’t I use it on someone else? Changing things for the sake of changing things is useless.

Sometimes it seems like this industry gets caught up in what people think they need to be doing or what looks cool. We need to take a step back sometimes and reevaluate what we are doing.

Does anyone really think that a hockey player is going to get better at hockey by running through a ladder in the locker room with their skates on? I hope not but some people think it looks cool or beneficial. It’s not and it won’t ever be.

Nothing takes the place of meaningful in-sport experience. Sports performance or strength and conditioning programs can be a huge difference maker but they are supposed to transfer to the athlete’s sport, not be the athlete’s sport.