Being a Generalist in a Specialized World

Tiger Woods and Roger Federer have a lot in common. They both became superstars at a young age in their respective sports. They both compete individually and have captured almost every record attainable in golf and tennis respectively. Their path to stardom could not be much different. Tiger held a golf club before he could walk, was winning tournaments at age 4 (against 10 year olds!) and was coached by his father relentlessly in the pursuit of conquering golf, the stuff of legend.

Roger dabbled in multiple sports until his late teens, his mother refused to coach him even though she is a professional tennis coach, he demanded to stay with his peers instead of moving up age brackets so he could play with his friends, waiting as long as possible to specialize in tennis and forgo other pursuits, such as soccer and surfing, the stuff of the average youth athlete.

In the New York best selling book Range, David Epstein argues that there is ample evidence that the approach of Roger is superior for success in all aspects of life over that of Tiger. How can this be?

We have all heard the 10,000 hour dedicated practice mantra, how important it is for young athletes to pick a sport at an early age and focus on it year round. Want to raise an accomplished musician? Pick their instrument for them, before they can form their own opinion. Tiger Mom! These ideas make sense emotionally and even are confirmed in the early stages of training, but research across multiple disciplines and sports have shown that it is not only a short term illusion, but in the long term it is a detriment to performance and success. Britain’s Olympic team began requiring a multiple sport approach in training their athletes and were rewarded with multiple gold medals.

The research holds up in the arts, sports, and even business and science. Generalists triumph in a specialized world! The book goes into detail across human pursuits but I wanted to narrow the focus on exercise and performance. This concept is not new to exercise and endurance athletes, cross training and its benefits have been known for a long time. But what do you do if you are an amateur athlete who enjoys distance running or triathlons?

You only have so much time available to train. Most of us focus on the specialty and forgo the general. I have seen this personally with my spouse. The problem with this approach is not only overtraining and injury, but you are probably diminishing your performance.

Obviously if you want to run a 5k, 10k, marathon, ride 100 milers, or complete a triathlon you need to train at those specific events. But you also need to cross train.

You will improve strength and stamina and help prevent injury. The solution? Invest in 2-3 30 minute general fitness workouts each week. The holistic approach at BCS Fitness will ensure you avoid overtraining and reduce your injury risk.

You may even find that backing off a little bit on your specialization and focusing on the general will improve your performance as our own Jori Kennedy recently did at the Spa Girl Sprint Tri. She felt stronger than ever climbing hills on the bike and the only change in her training was working out at BCS Fitness! We have heard other clients espouse the same experience, and if they’d only known how much they could accomplish in a short period of time they would have started ages ago.

If you are not a specialized athlete concerned with running, biking, etc, you too will reap more benefit and injury prevention from a holistic approach to exercise than the same routine over and over. Obviously both Tiger and Roger are special athletes and have had tremendous success, but one of them has 20 career majors, 0 major scandals and injuries to the others 15-1-and endless.

💻Written by Jared MacDonald