Agility, Strength, Power or Finesse?

October 15, 2012 – 9:53 am

My first Sambo coach (US Olympic Greco-Roman team alternate, Class A national gymnast, 5X World Sambo medalist, and former special operations soldier) said to me that all he had to teach me was his own style of grappling. He explained that he was power grappler and that he would never be able to teach me anything but power because that’s all he knew. That set in motion a mental assessment process for evaluating physiological “types” of athletes.

I learned that I am a finesse athlete. I learned as much as I could from my power coach, though we often used different languages though speaking the same tongue. We had neither attribute in common, since he was on the other end of both spetrums from me. He was inefficient and could sneeze and gain muscle. He was fast and could easily blast through a reactionary gap.

I needed to focus on meticulous perfection of technique because I was neither fast nor strong. But when I did get a technique, I could always get it when the opportunity presented itself, and my opponents wouldn’t see or feel it coming (and when they did, there was little they can do about it, because I had capitalized upon a “sweet spot” or hole in structural integrity.)

I kept scouring the world for finesse coaches - and was blessed with finding one of the best in the world: Alexander Retuinskih. Since we were both finesse athletes, he could say something with only a few words and though in a different language and I “got it.” It was easy to understand someone who was speaking the same neurological language.

I have to work on being powerful (as well as strong and fast.) We each have the thing we develop with the greatest challenge and the slowest return. But embracing the reality of our genetics allows us to revel in their benefits, and take measure to balance our deficits: to exploit our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses until such a time that they too become strengths.

A dancer could be split like a twig. A fighter crippled in pain. A lifter coffined in immobility. A sprinter trapped under weight. Sometimes it feels Sisyphean, but ultimately, it’s not about how much we accomplish quantitatively, but how deeply we struggle for our balanced development and continual growth through challenge.

After two decades of acting as a national coach for various sports, I’ve evaluated four different types of nervous systems based upon how you adapt to challenges you face. They are the bisection of efficiency and speed (seen in this diagram I created):

A. Speed
B. Efficiency

The nervous system tends to be one or the other, though on a sliding scale. In general, either you’re particularly predisposed to gaining agility/coordination or to gaining strength/size. If you don’t feel either, then you’re either not training and recovering sufficiently/properly to elicit adaptations or not eating and recovering sufficiently/properly to anchor adaptations.

Those two virtues bisect each other and become the four types of athletes.

1. Agility
2. Finesse
3. Strength
4. Power

The bisection of efficiency and speed creates the four archetypal Finesse, Agile, Strong and Powerful athletic dispositions. Definitely, you must shore up your genetic deficits to become a balanced athlete. People discount their genetic gifts as a result.

Perhaps it’s a recent phenomenon that depreciates the specialist. Mastery ALWAYS comes by specializing. I’ve never met a “general” master of everything. Maybe it’s an American cultural icon to adore the “jack-of-all-trades” but let’s not discount our strengths to focus on our weaknesses. It’s often best to practice serial monogamy with regards to training foci.

Training the 4 Athletic Types

–> The Finesse athlete feels the “sweet spot.”
–> The Agile athlete anticipates the “decisive moment”
–> The Strength intuits the “snowball effect”
–> The Power perceives structural weakness.

Masterful athletes of any discipline have never permitted a deficit in any one of the four arenas. Let’s distinguish between talented (or gifted) and masterful athletes. When we say, “s/he’s a talented athlete,” we refer to their successful application of their natural gifts (genetics, if you will.) When we say, “s/he’s a masterful athlete,” we allude to the seemingly invulnerable grace, imperturbable poise and indistractible awareness that only one who has shored up all four types, can demonstrate.

Here are how the 4 athletic types experience preference in training:

–> The Finesse Athlete adores coordination complexity and rhythmic endurance.
–> The Strength Athlete enjoys intensity (towards one rep maximum) and stamina.
–> The Power Athlete revels in explosiveness (such as fast tempo rep speed) and acceleration.
–> The Agile Athlete thrives in reaction speed, velocity and agility.

Obviously, the polar opposite athletic type is how one experiences challenge:

–> The Finesse Athlete does not respond quickly to explosiveness and acceleration.
–> The Strength Athlete does not respond quickly to reaction speed, velocity and agility.
–> The Power Athlete does not respond quickly to coordination complexity and rhythmic endurance.
–> The Agile Athlete does not respond quickly to intensity and stamina.

Notice that I did not write, “does not prefer…” Preference is personally defined. Predisposition to adaptation is different than preference.

A “spoiled brat” athlete only prefers to do the things which come naturally to him or her. Only dedicate a very small aspect of training to natural disposition, just enough to show success when facing extreme challenge; though if you’re “tanking” too much, don’t even allow that. Be willing to put in the work and surpass your potential.

The Limitation of Models

The above are stereotypes, a word invented by Didot regarding printing. It’s used to mean a duplicate impression of an original element, used for printing instead of the original. They do not represent truth, but only a copied generalized observation about reality.

Use these coaching tools only if they help your performance. Struggle with which you most identify, how to create drills to accent that stereotype, or how to overcome your genetic disposition, then dump the entire model. Find a tool which you can instantly, fruitfully and repeatedly apply.

Now, as a coach, you can improve your evaluations of athletes who are different from your own type. You will be forced to do this. You’ll face athletes of every type. And it’s important not to type-cast yourself or others. You’ll become a better coach AND a better athlete in the process.

I put together a cadre of different types of athletes on my coaching staff, so each of the types could be addressed. Those who have been to my seminars events may enjoy each of the coaches, but gravitate towards one “teaching style.” Together, we are stronger than any one of us.

What type of athlete are you, and how has that effected the coaches you’ve had?

Very Respectfully,
Scott Sonnon

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