SPORTS PERFORMANCE

Train Like the Pros

Jason Weber & Darren Burgess discuss the challenges of preparation for international competitions, different ideas on monitoring and testing in professional sport. Read More
In recent years technology and S&C coaching have grown so closely interwoven that at times it seems we can't move without a mandatory "setup" period in which the minions wheel out the plethora of devices required to quantify what is happening before our eyes.  Is this a good thing? Read More

Run, Kick, Scrum, Lift, Pass, Throw, Tactics , Calls...

Where does it all fit?  Speed, strength, power, endurance...and that's just the physical component.

Here are my Four Guiding Principles when it comes to evaluating and planning technical & tactical elements of training.  I use these as a cornerstone in my conversations with coaches so that I am clearly understood when it comes to balancing out any program. Read More

Do you monitor you athletes?

Do you blindly take a “let’s do what everybody else is doing” approach or do you have a philosophical model for your approach?

Do you want to be a HP Manager…monitoring systems are not just about the numbers!

Read More
When working in professional team sports the complexity of the task at hand can sometimes be daunting.  In order to succeed, or at the very least not kill yourself in the pursuit of your job, you need to have a very simple, high clarity definition of what is important to you!

Personally, I adhere to the motto; "In order to finish first, first you must finish".  

There are no prizes in sport for being the best trainer (otherwise Pukey the Clown and his merry bunch of followers would dominate every sport).  Prizes in sport are only given to those who compete at the highest level and win, which requires the best players on the field for the longest period of time possible.  

Based on this, my decisions are driven everyday by what I need to do to ensure my players are available to train and play in a condition that will allow them to sustain the required performance for the longest period possible.

So, as a New Years exercise, sit back quietly and answer the question "What is important to you?".

Here's a couple of things I've seen over time that you may want to watch out for along the way.

Don't be sucked in to chasing too many performance outcomes at once.  I get the plethora of periodization models out there at the moment, but too often I see young coaches writing programs that do nothing but induce massive levels of fatigue by layering too many otherwise good methods on top of one another.  Prioritise what you really value and focus on getting that done.  Ensure the athlete can recover between sessions, and by recover I mean demonstrate adaptation and improvement.

Don't be sucked into trends.  Learn off coaches who have been around for a long time and had success in multiple environments.  Take that knowledge and distill it into your own Training Model.  Assuming you haven't tried to completely "reinvent the wheel", and you've listened to your mentors you should end up with a model that may be refined over time but ultimately will serve you well throughout your career.

Test what you value and what will help you make decisions.  Don't collect data for data's sake.  It kills good young graduate students and more importantly distracts you from the task at hand.  If data doesn't help you make a decision get rid of it!

Maintain quality over quantity.  Never sacrifice the quality of mechanical execution in the pursuit of numbers.  The advent of GPS has seen many programs chase speed and distance numbers.  This practice ends only in one place and I can guarantee its not on the podium.  We know via rDNA transcription your body will adapt to what you do.  Practice perfectly.

Focus on what is important to you and your program and don't be distracted from that course of action. 

JW

In this day and age the professional sporting environment is overwhelmed by the scope and magnitude of "monitoring variables".  What do we measure.  How frequently do we measure?  Confusing the mix even more, is a plethora of new technology available now, and more coming out everyday day that allows us to assess everything from HRV to CK to functional ROM etc etc etc.

In a recent blog marketing guru Seth Godin made an insightful observation about the similar proliferation of productivity apps..

"...you'd think that with all the iPad productivity apps, smartphone productivity apps, productivity blogs and techniques and discussions... that we'd be more productive as a result.
Are you more productive?
I wonder how much productivity comes from new techniques, and how much comes from merely getting sick of non-productivity and deciding to do something that matters, right now".

Here's my very simple take on setting up your monitoring and ensuring you do something that matters;

1. Use a balance of objective and subjective information
Objective data is critical to any monitoring process and must be a cornerstone of any model.  Objective data well collected gives you reliable information.  Subjective data must be treated carefully, but is also a key element.  To be very clear, I define Subjective data as anything were an athlete has a choice.  Obviously this includes RPE & Welling being type questions but in my view it also extends to assessments such as jump or strength strength assessments.  In tests of this nature the athlete must be relied upon to give maximum effort in order to be confident that what the data is showing you is a true function of neural freshness etc.  I have seen many times the obvious failure of individuals to give 100% because of how they "feel", clearly a subjective response, hence my categorisation of these tests as subjective in nature.  Subjective data does give you an insight into the psychological status of the individual, information that may be useful in helping you understand the athlete's current capacity.

2. Ensure the data collection is repeatable 
As with anything based on science ensure your methodologies are sound and easily repeatable.  In oder to be capable of making decisions on data you must have complete faith in the information.

3. Understand the limitations of the data
Nothing is ever absolute.  Understand clearly the depth of detail data offers you.  Be very careful and considered when establishing how much weight you place on any one piece of data. 

4. Establish thresholds for your data set
Once you have confidence in a given variable, establish well documented thresholds which can serve as "quick" alerts.  By documenting a given threshold you are committing to a systematic approach to your monitoring.  Leaving "grey zones" makes it harder to define to a senior or head coach your rationale for making decisions regarding an athlete. 

5. Define your decision making process / how you will use the data
Clearly establish in advance how you are going to use data.  Talk to your skills coaches in advance so that they understand (even at a superficial level) the rationale behind your decision making process, because ultimately you will need to make decisions about training that will impact them significantly.

6. Internal research is valuable
Running internal research on your data is the most consistent way to establish and validate your procedures.  Published academic research can support to an extent but it has been my experience that the strongest research you can generate is that measured in your environment on your people.

7. Connect the dots - Look for the patterns - recognise symptom from cause
Like S&C coaching, Monitoring is both a science and an art form.  By committing to a systematic approach as noted above and investing in your own internal research you can quantify the information that dictates immediate action, and the information that on its own isn't necessarily a "call to arms" but when linked with other data paints a picture.  There are computer systems that try to put some of this information together, (I've been involved in the design of two) but for me there is a critical skill set in being able to join the dots and see the picture.  

For example an 85kg AFL running machine presents the following data; 
Forward sacral torsion noted 2x in training 2 days prior - both corrected without issue
Tight left quad noted post training two days ago - treated locally, no loss ROM or strength
Sit and Reach down left this morning
Physio reports forward sacral torsion left this morning - corrected 
History restricted Right 1st MTP joint (degenerative)

Looking at the picture the quad tightness is symptomatic of the sacral torsion being caused by an unload due to a degenerative MTP joint.  Actions need to be around focus on the right foot, local management of the left quad and modification of the speed content of training until correct dorsi-flexion of the toe can be achieved to even out running mechanics.  Looking at the data from a holistic perspective allowed a decision to be made that allowed an appropriate training stimulus to be applied but also addressed the origin of the issue.

NB: At the same time I was testing a running asymmetry model which also supported the observation of a running imbalance.  This data contributes to the case for including asymmetry data my monitoring mix.  Testing continues!

8. Know your athletes
This is undoubtably the core tenant of being a coach.  The data tells a story, but the story describes an individual.  Knowing that individual, his capacity to tolerate loads, injury history and other individual nuances allows you to see the patterns in the data and interpret them meaningfully.  

Everybody goes overboard with data at different times.  Make sure at regular intervals you step back and have a good look at what you are measuring and why.  If you can create a sound rationale for you system that is effective at keeping your athletes at their very best you are on the right path.

Yours in S&C 

JW

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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.

Got any questions...give me yell here and I will do my best!

If you get something out of this throw me a "Like" on Facebook...thanks.

JW

I had a coupe of interesting tweets regarding SSG and the notion of "what our ultimate goal is" come across my phone in the last 24hrs and it got me thinking about a few things.

The first tweet thread that got me going involved the statement that our "ultimate aim is not to run better than the opposition, it is to win".  While I got the thrust of the initial tweet, the follow up from someone of far less experience pushed the idea harder that winning is what we should be focused on.  I'm all for winning but it is critical not to get derailed from our core functions by focusing on the outcome of winning and not the process of the job.

As team based S&C coaches we can't improve sport skill or team work of athletes.  That's for the skills coaches.

We support our coach's philosophy through training planning and load management etc but we need to be very careful that supporting skill practice does not replace physical development and maintenance.

David Joyce of the Western Force tweeted Nov 8 "expert panel @ ASCA conference indicated Australian soccer 100% reliance on SSG not enough".  Makes sense.  We're not as technically good as other international teams and that is hard to change, but there is no reason we can't be the most physically dominant.

I've seen S&C coaches who have allowed low intensity non specific training in the form of SSG to become the majority of a teams workload and it has burnt them badly.  Quite often this type of training is based on the team coach's "expert" opinion that the drill is specific.  Let me tell you from experience (one that was in an all too public a forum) football coaches no matter how good they are not capable of assessing training load on an entire group.  See my thoughts on data here http://www.oldbullfitness.com/blogs/old-bull-training/9835802-the-trend-is-your-friend

Team sport athletes (as any athletes) must be prepared for worst case scenario and as team S&C coaches we should never lose sight of that.

Yes, the ultimate aim is to win, and I support technical and tactical development of the athlete toward that aim, but the greatest contribution I can make to the team is ensuring that they are as bulletproof as possible in preparation for the "double overtime, come from behind, two men down, length of the field, into the wind victory".

I always approach athletic preparation from this perspective... if my team is equal the skill of the opposition and it comes down to trench warfare late in the game I want my guys to be the ones standing when the dust settles.

Vern Gambetta tweeted on 7 Nov "for practice to be most effective don't try to replicate the game or skill, distort it!"  My take on that is not that you design a ludicrous derivative of your sport, but more that the drill seeks to overload the athlete in order to challenge them beyond their current capacities e.g. outnumbered defenders, faster rate of work etc.  When implemented with an advanced or elite group, yes this may include taking them beyond the game.  Ultimately it is at this "sharp end of the stick" that any given sport evolves e.g. moves faster, has more players involved at contests, increases defensive pressure etc.

So for the team S&C coach the trick is to ensure the drill design of SSG and execution by the coaching staff not only addresses the technical and tactical demands of the game but most importantly (from our perspective) it addresses the players required physical demands (by that I mean specific load…correct intensity, volume, density, duration and movement pattern).  If it doesn't it either needs to be adapted (which is always a challenge on the fly) or the session must be accounted for as a physical load and intern an appropriate stimulus must be applied where possible (always a nightmare after the fact).

My strongest advice would be work very closely with your head coach when SSG (small sided games) are involved...and don't get me wrong I think SSG can be a valuable tool but ensure you are clinical about the required metrics for each player and to the best of your technical capacities account for each player individually.  The bell curve of load application has a nasty habit of flattening during the use of SSG, and you can very quickly end up with a mess if loads are not well managed.  To that end avoid getting into situations where there is nothing in the session but SSG unless you are gunned up with live data that you back implicitly to allow you to "bend" the bell curve back in your favour by moving players in and out at your direction.

Jeremy Shepard (who owns my dream job) tweeted 10/12/12 some cool "punk" stuff but concluded with the aim of training to be "physically superior to you opposition".  I couldn't agree more!

Yes, our desired outcome is to win, but never confuse that with our designated process which is to ensure that our charges are sent to battle in a physically superior state to that of the opposition!  I've been around for a while now, and have been privileged enough to work with a lot of different coaches, and they all want the same thing…the biggest, fastest and fittest!!  Never changes.  So whatever you do, don't lose sight of exactly what it is you do as an S&C coach that contributes to the team winning.

As always, this is just one guys opinion.  Use it to help formulate your own ideas.

Yours in S&C

JW

If you get something out of this throw me a "Like" on Facebook...thanks.

I've been around long enough in professional strength & conditioning to have seen numerous different approaches to preparing athletes for competitive sport.

Do you train lower body bilaterally or unilaterally?

Do you train running capacity long to short or short to long?

Without question there is more than one way to "skin a cat" and there are many different types of "cats" (athletes) in the world.  I always encourage professionals in the S&C field to develop and regularly refine their own training model.  Despite any differences in theoretical or philosophical approach to your training model, there is one thing that binds us all...data.  

Data is the one true leveler.  Objective data is the single most critical tool in an S&C coach's "bag of tricks".  Data allows us to answer four critical questions with respect to the athlete:

Where are they coming from?
Where are they now?
What barriers block the path forward?
How do we plan to get to their destination?

If you can clearly answer these questions, you can then apply those answers to your training model and develop a systematic plan for the progression of your athlete…and make no mistake, collecting data about training is just as important for the guy at the local gym or in his garage as it is for an athlete.  Quantification of training allows us to develop plans to improve.


Over the years I've seen everything from coaches who train for tests so their data looks fantastic for the team's head coach, all the way to coaches that effectively don't test so they keep everybody in the dark.  While neither of these approaches contributes to long term development of the athlete, somewhere in the middle is the answer.

At the TEDX conference in Sydney 2013, Simon Jackman (political scientist) presented on what he called the Democracy Data Revolution (www.youtube.com/watch?v=INf5u29n-5Q).  In his presentation he made a comment that I felt was tailor made for the S&C industry…"In God we trust...everyone else must bring data".  I think this statement sums up the nature of S&C coaching.  Data gives a clarity to ensure that we can define without question "why" we chose a particular path at any given time for our athletes.

Personally, from a testing perspective I adhere to a philosophy espoused by coach Kelvin Giles…"Training is testing - testing is training".  There is nothing I hate more than having to put training on hold to conduct testing.  Further, investing in a single testing opportunity that is then compromised by absences or poor performances based on any number of psychological issues ends up leaving "black holes" in your data that doesn't in any way help your end game.

My preference is to measure as many variables as possible as frequently as possible to give me clarity as to where my athletes are at at all times.  This then transitions from not just assessing performance, but more specifically to assessing the adaptation of the athlete to the prescribed stimulus.  From my perspective understanding an individual athlete's adaptive cycles and capacities is more critical to my programming than simply knowing their current performance cabability.  

Now, measuring as many variables as possible as frequently as possible, is quite easy for me to say sitting behind a vast array of technology in a professional sporting environment.  Wrong…the technology you have at hand is incidental.  The philosophy is what is critical.  I work on a system of Lead Indicators.  By definition, Lead Indicators are measurable factors that change before the dependent variable (in our case performance) begins to change.  A Lead Indicator is in practice data points collected on a regular basis with limited time between data collections that allow you to see "trends" developing.  The assessment of a "trend" allows you to make critical tactical changes in programming where required in order to adjust to or sustain the trend as is required.  This is opposed to a Lag Indicator which by definition identifies changes once the dependent variable has begun to follow a trend.  

For example; assessing body composition by DEXA scan is a Lag Indicator while assessing skinfolds, body mass and intern Lean Muscle Mass (by calculation) is a Lead Indicator.  Small changes in SF measurements over a number of weeks will alert you to a trend developing while the DEXA scan will confirm the observation.

In practice I have found that the most effective way to develop a Lead Indicator system is simply to identify the data that you most value with respect to the abilities or performance you are trying to bring up in your athletes, then ensure you measure it as regularly as possible to assess the development of trends.  For technology enabled environments this is done with equipment like GPS, accelerometers, linear rate encoders and force plates.  For environments that are limited by technology you simply need to think around the data collection issue to find what you can assess.

Here's a number of Palaeolithic (to steal the popular nutrition term) Lead Indicators and ways to measure them.

Power - mark heights on a Smith machine using tape so that jump or throw heights can be assessed visually.  This logic also works in a squat cage - use a piece of elastic tubing (Theraband etc) from the front to back of the cage again to create a height gauge, simply adjust up and down to determine the maximum jump or throw height.  While power can't directly be assessed, improved jump/throw height at a given load is indicative of improved power. 

Running Capacity - develop a "test set" that can be used on a regular basis to assess progression.  It can be as scientifically accurate as you like. The most important thing is that it is repeatable.  Running sessions based on the work of Veronique Billat and Gregory Dupont (check future posts) are ideal for use with large groups as athletes can be very easily moved up or down groups based on their observed performance.

Remember the most important things about data;

Be consistent in how you measure
Measure on a regular basis
Measure what you value
Ensure what you measure helps your athlete improve

 

JW

If you get something out of this throw me a "Like" on Facebook...thanks.