Because we train dozens of pro baseball players and high school volleyball players, I’m always shocked by the surprise of others when they discover we can also train water polo, soccer, or any other sport. What is far more important than training a specific sport is training the individual’s particular needs.
Sports do require a certain level of specialized training. Water polo players need to maintain hip flexibility due to the repetitive nature of treading water, but so do baseball players to improve their rotational range of motion for more power. Furthermore, female soccer players can reduce their ACL risk through the same hip benefits. With these overlapping needs, the main difference in training athletes from different sports becomes clear; train the weaknesses of each individual first.
At Sparta we use the Vertical Jump on a Force Plate (see Sparta Point 10/28/09) to diagnose the individual, both improving their performance and reducing their injury risk. Following this analysis and subsequent individualized training, we sprinkle in some sport specific skills, such as medicine ball throws for water polo, sprinting for baseball, and agility technique for soccer.
After coaching teams at both UCLA and Cal, I am convinced that coaches can still attend to these individual needs within team workouts. However, a good coach or trainer is required. The coach or trainer should work primarily with athletes, as this population requires different psychological cues and loading schemes (how much weight, rest, etc.). These coaches should also have undergone some sort of rigorous certification or training, which is rare considering personal trainers and cross fit instructors can get certified as coaches in a mere weekend.
With the proper experience and education, coaches can individualize the specific cue for the same exercise, allowing different athletes to gain unique improvements simultaneously. One athlete may need to be more upright during a squat, while the other athlete may need to keep their heels on the ground better.
The concept of individualized and sports specific training becomes much less daunting when compared with the task of finding coaches or personal trainers that only train athletes, as well as having the experience/certification to develop these unique creatures.