Coaching techniques: British and Australian views on crosstraining

Coaches from different nations approach crosstraining with varying opinion

Crosstraining - the transfer of useful training techniques from one sport to another - was once a major buzzword in the sporting world. But in my opinion the concept has never been fully explored and remains an area of untapped wealth for coaches and performers alike.

As player/coach of the Scotland Baseball Team, I am always looking for techniques used in other sports that I can harness to improve my team's performance. Recently I have used training ideas from sports as diverse as rugby, golf, tennis, volleyball, javelin-throwing, swimming and cricket, all of which seemed to offer a new way of approaching a baseball-specific issue.

Unfortunately, this is not a widespread practice and many sports coaches hold the blinkered view that only 'tried-and-tested' techniques relevant to their own sport are worth using and that athletes and coaches need to work harder at these rather than looking for a solution from outside their narrow sphere.

My experience suggests otherwise: for example, I used a psychological technique from cricket to help my players establish themselves at bat early in games and get 'comfortable'. Scoring early in baseball is key to determining the outcome of the match as it markedly increases the likelihood of victory. The actions involved in throwing a baseball share biomechanical similarities with a great number of other sports, including swimming, volleyball and tennis: indeed shoulder-strengthening techniques from swimming have proved highly effective in the rehabilitation of injured players involved in our national team programme.

One country in particular has enjoyed great success as a result of crosstraining. Australia has applied forward thinking to its sports training across the board and was rewarded in 1999 and 2000 with evidence that it is now the world's pre-eminent sporting nation. The world champion Australian rugby union team used crosstraining to great effect in the recent World Cup: their players had learned how to fall in the correct body position from top Judo coaches, how to jump better from volleyball gurus and how to kick better from Aussie Rules coaches. These and other skills, when added to their rugby talents, worked to create a coherent rugby-specific approach. The Australian cricket team also used crosstraining by employing baseball coaches to help develop their throwing accuracy and velocity. Now most major test sides can be seen using baseball gloves to help with match preparation. Crosstraining can mean the smallest of changes.

Ego underlies the territorial approach

So why has the sporting world in general failed to embrace the concept of crosstraining? Perhaps the biggest single reason for the current 'territorial' approach is ego. Many coaches are simply unwilling to accept that a technique from another sport could help them in their own. Unfortunately, this unreceptive attitude has limited their breadth of knowledge. A prime example is rugby union which, at an administrative level at least, has long viewed rugby league with the eye of suspicion rather than appreciation. It has taken the influence and success of ex-rugby league players like Scott Gibbs, Alan Tait and Scott Quinell for rugby union to appreciate the benefits of the techniques used in the league code. Now skills such as 'off-loading' the ball when tackled and the 'wrap-up' tackle have become powerful weapons in union strategy, both offensive and defensive.

The margins of victory in all sports are tending to narrow as the depth of talent increases. In this climate the need to develop a 'competitive edge' has become ever-more important. Crosstraining will be the key to success in future as the need for multi-faceted performers with no deficiencies in their overall ability becomes paramount.

In rugby union, for example, the physical development of the players has caught up with the scope of the game to the extent that there is now little difference between the top international test sides. In consequence, the emphasis has shifted to maximising the players' skill development as the vital ingredient in the quest for success.

A good example of this approach is provided by the national teams involved in the Tri-Nations rugby union series (New Zealand, South Africa and Australia). These sides provide clear evidence that, at the highest level of the game, teams are made up not of eight forwards and seven backs but of 15 rugby players. These days back row forwards are expected to keep up with electric-paced wingers, and wingers are expected to be as hefty as forwards - and just as willing to use their bodies to maintain team possession of the ball. While the winger Joshua Lomu - 22 stone and able to run 100m in under 10 seconds - is regarded as something of a freak in rugby, there is no doubt that he has set the standard for wingers of the future.

It is my fervent hope that any coaches reading this article are either already using crosstraining as part of their coaching arsenal or at least considering it. Knowledge is power, yet many coaches are impeding their own development and the range of information they can pass on to their players by not venturing outside the confines of their own disciplines. Peak Performance is the perfect forum for sharing ideas between coaches. A greater openness in sport will surely be of benefit to everyone.

Nick Clark

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