Consistency and the Coach's Eye

In Australia the largest economies that support S&C operations are team based football codes i.e. A.F.L., Rugby Union, Rugby League and Soccer.  If you look further afield, the same can be said internationally e.g. Premier League Football, N.F.L. etc.  They are by far the hardest jobs to get into and are without doubt the most volatile to survive in.  That being said, given the number of enquiries I get about employment opportunities, these jobs are easily the most coveted.

As I have been privileged / resilient / lucky enough to head up S&C departments in professional teams in Rugby and A.F.L. for the past 15 years, I thought it may be of interest to share how I think about and approach planning for football codes from the perspective of delivering a consistent product.  

NB: if you consistently produce good products (results) then you are an invaluable resource to clubs and coaches!  Don't be misguided into believing anything else…the number one thing that extends mortality in professional sport is consistency!

Historically I follow a basic two pronged approach;
  1. Research
  2. My Model

Research is pretty straight forward, how far do they run, basic combinations of efforts, number of contacts etc.  Without doubt the advent of GPS and accelerometer technology has vastly improved this aspect of this or any approach to team planning.  Further, with the proliferation of advanced degree holders bouncing around the place these days, there is always somebody to offer up and interpret the plethora of descriptive research articles available.

However, as the name of my website suggests (OLDBULL - see definition), I was working in this industry well before the aforementioned technologies and at that time I needed something that had more substance to it than simple time motion analysis.

Therefore, I created another simple methodology that gave me a great "feel" for what was required.  I will add that it is my most ardent belief that coaching is a "scientific art". Yes, the scientific details are required, but the "art" side of the equation for me means that I need a "feel" for what the athlete is required to do.  Even deeper, I look for an empathy and intuitive understanding of the athlete's environment and required contributions.  Not surprisingly this formed the basis of what I think it takes to get a full time S&C job.

Being a good S&C coach is not about just reading the research and "cut and pasting" data into a spreadsheet and handing out copies.  It's about having a "connection" to your athlete and the environment such that you can make creative, informed and sound decisions about any training stimulus you choose to apply.

The second part of my approach is simply assessing the each of the following three common components of all football codes (obviously this is my opinion).
Combat  - requires strength and power to compete for possession.
Critical Running - requires speed and agility to compete for or with possession.
Transition Running - requires high running efficiency to allow the athlete to move between Combat and Critical Running elements.
Once I have considered each variable I can begin to work through the requirements of each position within the sport.

Where does competition for the ball take place…on the ground, in a standing position, in the air?
Is the contest one vs one or one vs many?
Is the contest structured or unstructured?
How frequently is possession contested?

These questions and others similar ones (feel free to add any of your own) form the basis for interpreting the nature of strength, repeat strength, power, jumping, landing, LMM, ballast (body weight) and work rate required for the game.

Critical Running
What type (pattern and speed) of running impacts scoring or defensive efforts.
Where does the player originate from with respect to the competition?  
Do they accelerate to the contest?  
Do they decelerate into the contest?  
Is the contest preceded by change of direction?
What speed does the athlete reach?
How frequently is it repeated?
How forceful is the interaction of Critical Running and Combat for possession?

These questions serve to describe the nature of speed, acceleration, deceleration, change of direction and associated repeatability.

Again, there are a vast array of questions that you can ask yourself based on what you see when you watch the sport.  Many S&C coaches get caught up in the numbers associated with sport.  I agree there are many, many useful numbers associated with high performance, but I would strongly caution any coach not to lose their "coach's eye".

Transition Running
How does the athlete move between Combat elements?
How long are the efforts?
How frequent are the efforts?
How does Transition Running interact with the previous two components?

These questions will guide the S&C coach on the magnitude of baseline running efficiency and capacity required.

Clearly there is more art to this part of the approach than there is science.  But it is this part of my little methodology that allows me to make sense of the data I receive either from training or research.  

For me reading that an AFL player runs an average of 142m/min with a 13% distance covered above 20km/h and 18% covered below 10km/h does give me the "texture" I need to ensure my program addresses the "needs" of the athlete not just the numbers.  It does not encapsulate the subtle angles run through Transition, physical pressure applied at the contest for the ball or the counter rotary strength required to explosively "spread" into space.

Study, read and research, but never forget to "experience" the nature of what you are trying to create.  Strength and Conditioning directly interacts with the human condition and on that basis can never be truly perfect.  But I can assure you, you will get far closer to perfection on a more consistent basis by learning to coach from an empathetic perspective rather than simply a textbook one.

Your fellow S&C coach


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