Chris Schwarz is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Ottawa Senators, and he likes to get to young athletes early. Why? Because he’s passionate about instilling ‘the fundamentals’ of sport, training, and the importance of play.
Over his near 25-year career coaching amateur and professional athletes in Canada, the U.S., and Europe, Chris Schwarz has developed a clear developmental philosophy. He believes that sport is a crucial social building block, and that we are losing touch with the fundamentals that grow human potential and enrich our experience.
Whether we are destined to be an elite athlete or simply want to enjoy a full life, Chris teaches that multi-sport learning is crucial not only to health and wellness, but to excellence in our sport of choice. He notes that the trend toward focused, single-sport training has had the side effect of diminishing young athletes’ potential. He observes that society has shifted direction at the expense of play. “It’s really important to learn math, but play has taken a backseat. It’s not about cramming schedules, it’s about teaching kids the full range of play – catching a ball, basic sport rules. I’ve seen many kids at 17 who don’t even know which hand to put a baseball glove on. Parents will say, “My son’s a hockey player. I can’t take away the time from that.”, but I see it like this: If they know how to play tennis, they’ll probably pick up a racket if someone asks them to do it. But if a kid has focused on hockey alone, he’s missed out on the joy of play. If he’s used to being the very best hockey player, it can be mentally tough to play another sport for fun and not be the star. “
“There are so many crucial lessons in sport. On the high end, you have a guy like Daniel Alfredsson—he can play ping pong… with both hands. That’s how good you have to be.”
“Not everyone is going to stay fit and healthy by jumping on a treadmill. Sport—or play—is the most inclusive way for young people to develop the fitness habits that will take them through life. We learn a lot from the challenges and problem solving in sports, the cooperation aspect, the win and the loss. You can’t have that on a treadmill. Sport offers so much more than fitness alone. Most kids will never become pro athletes, but they can learn and benefit from a lifelong love for and ability to play sports.”
Chris points out that the growing ‘business of sport’ has impacted the bedrock of healthy living and training. “Parents are asking me about supplements, but their kid is skipping breakfast. I’m a bit of a stickler about the fundamentals—making good food choices, and what’s in it outside of just becoming a good athlete. I don’t want to see kids getting up every morning and having a protein shake.”
“Most Canadian kids have never been to a farm. They don’t know where their food comes from. They don’t know the fundamentals of these things, and it concerns me. We’re getting to the point where businesses are preying on parents and kids promising shortcuts. There are no shortcuts. You have to teach your kid to work – not chase butterflies.”
“I’m excited to work with Dairy Farmers of Ontario because I drink milk. For me, it’s a full circle to why. If I don’t think it’s right and my own kids aren’t doing it, I’m not going to get behind it. We offer chocolate milk in the Senators’ change room, and the players go for it. They grew up with it. To me as a sports performance person, I like to know where my food comes from.”