Should I Choose a Coach or Personal Trainer?

There are two types of athletes: those who play for fun and those who play to win. The distinction determines what type of help you should seek if you desire to get better.

I commented on Melissa Witmer’s Skyd article “Ultimate’s CrossFit Problem” that ultimate players who train for the sport with CrossFit could stay at the bottom of the tournament bracket. After my piece about using sports for weight loss and my commentaries about being an elite athlete or attempting to become one, some readers were confused.

In those articles, I am addressing the athlete who plays to win. They know the rules of their sport intimately, understand its physical demands, and have competed at progressively higher levels over several years. They make large time and money investments in their physical, tactical, and mental preparation. These are people who vacation to training camps, practice technique fundamentals during their free time, and plan obsessively about their next tournament.

Many athletes, however, play for the joy of playing. Most are beginners or intermediates. Some are retired competitors. They know the rules of their sport but don’t tend to think of how those rules can be used to gain a competitive advantage. Once they learn the basics, they are eager to try cool, flashy, or interesting moves, but rarely invest personal time pursuing mastery. They enjoy socializing, breaking a sweat, and having a few laughs while playing. These are people who join pickup games on weekends or compete in city leagues.

(C) Warner Bros 1996

Remember Space Jam? After his talent was stolen by the monsters, Charles Barkley wandered between city parks watching kids play basketball. The girls on the court were in awe to see him in person.

Competitive athletes – the ones for whom most ATX Speed and Strength articles are written – have high expectations of their skills, have spent hundreds of hours improving their game, and would feel as out of place in most recreational play as Barkley looked in that scene.

Competitive athletes and many recreational athletes desire improvement. Some recreational players want to become competitive.

Where should you go for help?

Recreational athletes like my touch rugby friends play a game or two, drink a beer, then go home. They do not use the weight room, track, or massage table trying to dominate physical weaknesses. Recreational athletes should choose any certified personal trainer or reputable fitness studio. Both can provide a program which improves body awareness, makes them somehow stronger, or increases basic work capacity. Those things will help them play better in Thursday night matches.

touch rugby game
Austin Blacks touch rugby league 2016

My former client Chris, who desired to be a starting collegiate lacrosse long-stick midfielder, had to be more selective. He had four years of lacrosse and six years of football training. He had hip, hamstring, and calf injuries. LSM is a highly specialized position. Competitive athletes like Chris should seek out both experienced sport coaches and certified strength and conditioning coaches. They need a program which addresses specific weaknesses, improves strength and power with minimal time investment, and teaches both tactical and recovery strategies for performing at a high level consistently.

LAX player Chris in high school
LAX player Chris in high school

Regarding self-care, city league softball players can take a few days off each week and occasionally attend yoga class. National-level club ultimate players need a list of professionals to consult for various issues. The key difference is timeline: recreational athletes don’t have deadlines for performance, while competitive athletes are always one injury away from blowing a championship game or retiring from the sport.

To the Austin-based recreational athlete, I recommend the following resources:

To the Austin-based competitive athlete, I encourage you to follow this link. The professionals on my Resources page (linked at the bottom of every ATX Speed and Strength web page) are some of the best in Austin. They are well-versed in the demands and urgency of competitive sports. Many are peers of mine. All are people on whom I would wager my reputation.

If ever you read a piece at ATX Speed and Strength and wonder if it was meant for you, ask yourself:

Am I playing to win and making personal sacrifices in order to do so?

Austin, TX flag football league photo
WAKA flag football league, from

My writing is for the Charles Barkleys of the playground. My training style serves competitive athletes. The principles I believe in are more restrictive, demanding, and extreme than recreational athletes need. I am glad you are here and hope you find content of value, but the strength training, speed development, and injury prevention done here at ATX Speed and Strength is not for you.

If you play to win, though, let’s get to work.

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