May the FORCE be with you!

I grew up in the era that produced the STAR WARS movies.  As a kid STAR WARS was everything.  By the time the third movie of the series came around (RETURN OF THE JEDI) we finally got a detailed understanding of the entity known as the FORCE from Jedi Master Yoda.  As an eager young fan I ate up the idea that the FORCE interacted with everything and was all around us, and that it could be used for good or evil.

Fast forward a decade and I was up to my eyeballs studying Sport Science at university and pursuing a fledgling rugby career that had me introduced to some great speed & strength coaches.  At the time I didn't notice it, but there was a distinct dichotomy at play…one stream of education was teaching me a physiological basis for performance, while a second was teaching me a mechanical or FORCE orientated basis for performance.

Jump forward another 20 or so years and here I am having coached professional Rugby and AFL at the highest levels with what I feel is a clear "training model" for how I see athletic development for these and similar sports (Soccer, Rugby league, field hockey etc).  The overview of my training model is simple…every training modality exists on a continuum of FORCE production.  Just as Jedi Master Yoda said all those years ago, "the FORCE interacts with everything and is all around us".

For me, FORCE is integrally related to the three key elements of field sports (previously described here).

COMBAT - requires high absolute FORCE and high Rate of FORCE Development to overcome opponents and "blast" through traffic and compete for possession.

CRITICAL RUNNING - requires high absolute FORCE and high Rate of FORCE Development to be agile; accelerating and decelerating quickly, then at greater ranges requires high anti-rotation and stabilising FORCES to support dynamic Impulse (high speed FORCE development) during maximum velocity running.

TRANSITION RUNNING - requires high Strength Endurance (repeated moderate level FORCE development) to support efficient running between COMBAT and CRITICAL RUNNING elements of play.

The idea of a FORCE continuum (otherwise noted as a Strength-Speed continuum) is not a new concept and certainly not one I am trying to reconfigure as my own.  My observation is that too often the traditional Strength-Speed continuum is taught in a manner that leaves the student thinking that the continuum refers only to exercises conducted in the gym and in specialist running sessions.  This is often the result of education programs based primarily on energy system function (physiological basis for performance). 

My contention is that EVERYTHING exists on the FORCE continuum.  By everything I mean team training sessions, skill sessions, VO2 max running sessions…everything!  For me the FORCE continuum not only includes the energetics and kinetics of performance (force, power, RFD) but also the kinematic (skill) elements of performance.

For example: 

  • MAS running (download background Dupont et. al. article here) is an intermittent running protocol designed to increase exposure to VO2Max as opposed to running continuously for the same period.  While this is true and extremely effective, MAS also provides repeated acceleration and deceleration which conditions athletes to repeated FORCE production, conditioning musculature of the lower body to the rigors of multi-directional field sports and re-enforcing running mechanics at medium speeds (Transition Running).  Most coaches would dismiss this as a FORCE production modality, but to my way of thinking this is simply another derivative on the FORCE continuum.
  • Running drills are a form of FORCE training and therefore demand inclusion in the programming model as they require a FORCE output and thereby contribute to fatigue. Track coaches would consider this the case but few field S&C coaches would.
By working from this centralized point I feel it is easier to think of programming as a whole.  Too often (and I have seen this repeatedly over the years) young coaches throw new research and methodologies around ad-hoc, but fail to connect the dots between all the activities.  When programming for a team sport it is critical that the coach consider the entire demands of the program not simply the "pieces" that he/she directly coaches e.g. strength sessions.

On this basis the team S&C professional needs to take with a grain of salt many of the "funky" training ideas that get proliferated on the internet.  Why?  Put simply, there are many coaches who are undoubtedly very good at their craft, writing from their perspective as strength coaches or short term consultants.  Clearly many of these coaches get good results, but the team S&C coach needs to ensure they consider their program in it's entirety and not simply on a piecemeal basis.

Nothing in Strength and Conditioning is ever 100% right or wrong and I don't expect that my thinking will necessarily resonate with everybody.  However, here's the "rub".  A team field sport S&C coach is responsible for a myriad of training variables well beyond the scope of coaches in consultancies or employed as specialists.  As such, the team S&C coach must be in a position to clearly consider each and every activity and its impact on each and every athlete.  Having a concise training model always in the front of your mind allows for rapid cross checking of training modalities and athletes.

I will continue to expand on the idea of Training Models in the future.  As always I hope this article offers some stimulation for reflection on your role within S&C.



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