Man versus child.
At least, that’s the way it felt to me as a freshman running cross country, a 14-year-old boy toeing the line and competing against 18-year-old men with bulging muscles and dense facial hair. At times, I was intimidated by athletes who looked bigger, more experienced and stronger than me.
Now as a junior who is closer in age to the 18-year-old men, I’ve learned that looks aren’t everything in distance running. But I’ve also learned the unspoken importance of strength, even in a speed-based sport almost devoid of physical contact. The same goes for each of our nine varsity sports teams competing this spring. No matter the sport, physical strength is a necessity and can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Starting off with the closest thing the spring season has to a contact sport, boys’ lacrosse requires general strength in every facet of the game. Each position uses strength in a different capacity, from attackmen creating separation to midfielders boxing out and scooping up ground balls, to defenders forcing their man out of the box. While muscle and bulk are helpful, players who can combine top-notch strength with speed are an opponent’s worst nightmare.
Girls’ lacrosse uses strength in many of the same capacities, though penalties on checking, as well as less padding, creates a less physically aggressive game and less need for bulk. Wrist strength is another area that the team focuses on during practices to help with passing and shooting.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are volleyball and tennis, in which specific muscular areas are crucial. Volleyball players use their quad muscles for passing and blocking and their shoulders for hitting. To build strength in these areas, players work on squats and shoulder exercises. Similarly, the powerhouse tennis team relies on leg and shoulder strength to develop agility and strong serves.
On the baseball and softball diamonds, strength is rewarded at the plate, especially for corner infielders who need to contribute power with their bat. Behind the plate, catchers require the most strength of any defensive position, needing a strong arm for throwing out baserunners and the ability to hold a squatting position for long periods of time. “Baseball is more of a finesse sport,” junior third baseman Harrison Cance said. “It depends on how you do things and not how strong you are. But strength helps.”
For my spring sport, track and field, strength is essential for form efficiency and injury prevention. Runners from sprinting and distance disciplines must develop strong core and hips to support their running form, in turn building more efficient mechanics and protecting against injury. Strength training is a part of the practice routine, and coaches Kellie Redmond and Jonathan Thomas have said that these exercises are as important as the running workouts. In field events, throwing events are wholly based in strength, while jumpers use strength for explosive movements.
There’s even a bit of strength required for the Ultimate Frisbee team. Strength helps with players’ throwing motion by creating power, allowing players to unleash throws deep downfield. “It’s mostly technique with throws but it does help to be stronger,” senior captain Michael He said.
Our spring sports teams are led by athletes with a wide range of body types, but physical strength is a common denominator across the board. And in each sport, the rewards of strength are great and worth the pain. Keep that in mind next time you’re suffering through a grueling set of squats or a brutal core workout.