As I am again on the cusp on another preseason and in light of my recent rant on SSG's I felt it relevant to pen a few more ramblings…hope they help stimulate some thinking.
As most S&C coaches would understand, there is an implicit link between the body and the mind. There is little doubt that if the mind is willing, the body can do some amazing things. In this context I think it is vital that as "coaches" we don't get caught up in coaching numbers and we ensure we coach "people".
Over the years I have observed a phenomena I termed "cone to cone culture". This culture essentially describes the athletic context of knowing exactly what is required of you i.e. a definitive start and finish (I must say I have seen this cultural trait grow with the Y and iGen guys coming through) While this is a "luxury" afforded the cyclic athlete, it is world apart from the harsh reality of field sport.
Yes we know when the game starts, and broadly when each period will finish and subsequently resume. What we don't know for certain is what will happen in the middle. Unquestionably there has been plenty of research in every field sport under the sun to describe the average attributes of each game…and that stuff looks great on paper and gives us some guidelines.
But reality is it doesn't really help the athlete. Why? Put simply the athlete has to decide to "go". Field sport is not a series of controlled events. It is ultimately series of "occasions" on which the athlete decides to impart themselves on the game. Tim Gabbitt's research has focused extensively on Repeat High Intensity Efforts (RHIE) primarily in blocks of three. However discussing the subject with him recently, he noted that his current enquires are looking at the significance of blocks of two efforts and their impact on the game. We discussed how two maximum efforts over 10sec can be just as debilitating as three or four but because they occur more often they may be of more impact on the game. Either way the completion of an RHIE in a field sport takes a decision on the athlete's behalf.
In house research I conducted when I was with the Wallabies showed clearly the impact of multiple efforts. I arbitrarily looked at test matches in terms of the number of "series" of plays that took place in the game. A series was defined as any multiples of play bounded before and after by a 60sec period of non-play. This was defined as a "significant break". My logic was that within a game, periods of non-play less than 60sec would offer insufficient recovery to the players and constitute an accumulating fatigue . Now clearly there are significant positional differences, but as this was conducted with a stop watch at a time when GPS was only just being introduced (and was illegal to wear during test matches…but I did happen to get few games that nobody noticed well ahead of IRB clearance) I was working on the basis of "whole of team play" i.e. if payers conducted their "normal" patterns and work rates at any given time, it would be relatively consistent within the "game" and therefore I anticipated a consistent accumulation of fatigue in any given "series" of play. I accept there were a few assumptions being made, but that's the difference between the real world and the test tube.
In any case I was able to determine how many series of plays existed in a game. The average "series" was 3.5min SD 1.1min followed by a break of average 1.5min SD 1.2min. What did this all mean. I got two things out of the quasi-research:
1. It gave me a clear idea of what I needed to condition for; 3-4min of position specific work** (with a maximum observed of 10min), followed 1.5-2min break. This set the outline for all on-field and off-field conditioning drills.
** Position Specific work is obviously dictated by where and how a player plays and conformed to much of the published research.
2. It gave me an insight into the work required to beat different oppositions;
South Africa / England were significantly bigger than us, and wanted to slow the game down…we needed to compete on speed, power and RHIE by creating an up tempo game.
All Blacks…can dish up anything…my old mates Mike Anthony and Greame Lowe produced some great teams then as now…we tended to be slightly better on the RHIE work in the mid 00's…but they got us for power and speed.
This is were I come back to SSG (Small Sided Games). In a well designed and controlled SSG the athletes are being forced to make decisions not only of a technical and tactical nature but from a physical perspective. How hard can I go right now? Will I last the game? If the "clutch" moment of the game comes up after I've made two efforts already can I take the opportunity? In essence they have to self regulate how much they physically exert within the game (I hear rumblings about Central Governor Theory in the background as I am writing).
So from a practical perspective I think it is critical for the S&C coach to closely evaluate the distribution of specific conditioning work conducted in running drills, match sim drills (medium contact game simulation), and SSG. Personally, I have a front end of preseasons that tend toward a 70:30 split running:match sim/SSG for approximately 5-6 weeks (I account for low level skill acquisition in overall load, but I don't evaluate it as a conditioning variable). This will invert and move to 20:80 in the 4-5 weeks pre-comp.
Running drills are great and give you complete control, balancing all the key programming variables. But they don't make the athlete decide to "go" in a strategic context. That said don't underestimate control, because if you can't achieve an appropriate training effect elsewhere, you need to achieve it in running drills
Training drills can be good with a coach who is on the same page and close monitoring of GPS tracking to ensure appropriate loading for each player (I noted the pit falls of this hand SSG in http://www.oldbullfitness.com/blogs/old-bull-training/10031837-thoughts-on-outcome-vs-process-and-small-sided-games).
SSG implementation is the perfect forum for athletes to develop their ability to choose to execute an RHIE series. An SSG can serve to educate the athlete on when and where they need to "go" and more importantly it teaches them the ability to "expose" themselves by going flat out, enduring the sustained fatigue, recover and then go again. Control of the loading variables is always a tricky one and in this day and age comes back to the technology you have at hand and your coach's eye.
One of the greatest things I have learnt since moving into the AFL (Australian Football League) is what I call the "Deadman's Run". Thats the player who explodes into space, often as part of an RHIE and drags hapless defenders into spaces they don't want to be in, only to see the ball flash in the other direction creating a scoring opportunity. This is the perfect example of a mentally and physically prepared athlete…one who is prepared to put it on the line physically for his team knowing full well there is no glory at the end for him…RESPECT! When you can get the bulk of your players committing to this you know you've broken the "cone to cone culture".
As always, these are the ramblings of one guy. Nothing in S&C is every is ever absolute. Hope this provides some food for thought.
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