Historically, Sport Coaches and Strength & Conditioning coaches have been at loggerheads over the handling of athletes, even though the goals of both these coaches is to have the athlete perform at their optimal levels. With more awareness of sport science, and in a bid to play catch-up with the west, Sport Coaches in different Sports are now increasingly giving importance to Strength & Conditioning.
One would assume that now, everything would fall into place and our athletes would finally be able fulfil their potential consistently at the top level. However, even now we have facilities with an individual playing multiple roles including that of part-time fitness trainers or ones which have hired uncertified trainers with little or no scientific knowledge in training athletes, young or professional. Without the knowledge of the energy system at play or the knowledge of the appropriate exercises to build strength and power (since commercial gyms only teach you hypertrophy and endurance), we have naturally powerful athletes training the wrong energy system all year round. To make matters more complicated, we also have to tackle the tournament schedule which usually originates from a short-term perspective and for the lack of better performance planning. With way too many tournaments spread out sporadically in a twelve-month period whose dates differ from one year to the next, it leaves little room for athletes to plan their seasons.
A cramped schedule is the norm of today with big successful leagues in Europe and North America since every game that is televised brings in huge revenues which is essential to keep the leagues afloat. Does the same reasoning apply here when it comes to tournaments for juniors? Surely not. Then why do we have such a cramped schedule? Are all of us, including the associations, tournament organizers, and the ones preparing athletes for all kinds of tournaments, doing justice to the athlete and helping their progress? One thing I am certain of is the fact that the athletes do not benefit from an unplanned and usually cramped tournament schedule as that doesn’t give them time for an off-season.
If we look at all the successful sporting models in the world, there is one thing in common; Periodisation.
Periodisation simply put, is breaking down of the sport season into smaller periods. Each period plays a different function to have the athlete prepared to peak when competition arrives. Every season should be broken down into an off-season, pre-season, in-season (competition) and post-season.
From a physical training perspective an off-season is the most crucial period. This is the 8-16 week period where the athlete puts in 3-5 days a week of work doing high volume and low to moderate intensity in order to build a solid base. There should be no competition during this period and practise sessions should look at building new skills rather than being too intense.
The transition to pre-season is where the training intensity is increased and volume is kept low. This is the period where the athlete is conditioned and strong enough to be able to last between 70 – 90% intensity of the sport practise. 8- 12 weeks of preseason training should bring the athlete to 100% just in time for the competitive season to begin.
Most in-seasons last between 12-16 + weeks and this presents some challenges in terms of programming. One way to deal with the length of this period is to design multiple 3 – 4 week mesocycles and pick the most critical tournaments or periods where the athlete would like to peak. This seldom means that he/she will be in poor condition for rest of the non-critical tournaments.
Post season is the time for the athlete to get in some active rest (low intensity work and playing a different sport recreationally) and depending on the next seasons schedule it may well include a complete break for a couple of weeks.
This type of periodization is known as linear periodization. It is the preferred form among young previously untrained athletes.
Periodisation works, It has been working years and is supported by numerous scientific research papers. But the implementation of the same has been overlooked or done very poorly thus far. We are a country with immense talent but not many of these talented individuals manage to peak at the right time in their careers.
“Practise makes perfect” and “this is how we have always done it” are some of the phrases that our harming our athletes. “No pain No pain” is one of my preferred motivation quotes to get athletes to report niggles and rest when they feel over trained.
We, as a nation need to try and keep up with sports science. Not only should our international coaches and trainers be aware of practises and protocols in more developed countries but so should the ones that train and coach our youth. There needs to be a change at all levels and the organisers too. The understanding of the concept of how a season is planned and the importance of an offseason is imperative if we want to produce top athletes that are not burnt-out by the time they go international.
Organisers need to be more cautious when conducting back to back tournaments and not leaving the athletes enough time to prepare for the season. Coaches need to assist younger athletes to plan their tournament participation keeping longer term goals in view. Parents and guardians need to realise how unplanned seasons end in either injury or less than peak performance and a danger of a burn-out. A sportsperson should go through many seasons in their life where they get better with every season for a larger part of their career than the other way around.