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Skill vs. Athleticism: There is a Difference

Updated: May 11, 2020

Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS

Founding Partner, Chief Clinical Officer

Professional Physical Therapy

There appears to be a theme in the field of Sports Rehabilitation regarding use of the term “sports-specific,” when referring to particular exercises that are prescribed to be executed by the athlete in the clinical setting. During these “sports-specific” conversations, it is inferred that by performing certain exercises, they will correlate to the skills of the athlete’s sport of participation. If this were true, why would it be necessary to hold team practice? Why not just “sport-specific” train and then play the game? The rehabilitation professional should be aware of the difference in the athlete’s skill level vs. their level of athleticism. Figure 1 demonstrates the athleticism of a professional baseball player who trains at our Professional Athletic Performance Center.

Figure 1 Seated 49 Inch Box Jump

This professional baseball player demonstrates great athleticism, but that does mean he demonstrates the skills, at this time, that are required to play at the major league level.

During the rehabilitation process, the physical qualities necessary for return to optimal athletic performance, such as strength, explosive strength, elastic/reactive strength and speed, are enhanced, resulting in improved athleticism (e.g., improved vertical jump, linear velocity, etc.). The athlete’s skill levels are enhanced via their participation in sport practice, as well as competition. The enhanced physical qualities “transfer” so to speak, to assist the skills of the sport of participation, via the neuromuscular system of the body, through the repetitive practice of the skills of the game. The athlete in this video demonstrates great athleticism with his vertical jump, but his vertical jump does not have any indication of his skill level, which in this case, includes but is not limited to the ability to hit or catch a baseball.

The rehabilitation professional should be aware of the difference between athleticism and skill. The term “sports-specific” is often used excessively and inappropriately, as little, if anything at all, performed in the clinical setting could be regarded as sports-specific.

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