Train Like the Pros

As the number of technical and physical elements required for professional team success increases and the time to train reaches what might be considered a ceiling (let’s face it…there’s only so many hours training you can make people do in a day), the responsibility has fallen to the S&C coach to “make it work”. Read More

David Tenney Seattle Sounders Part 2 Content

Sport Science evolution in professional sport in the US

Impact of travel and climatic variations

Quantifying fatigue

Small sided game planning based driven by monitoring metrics

Positional variations

"Simplifying data so it becomes meaningful for the coach" - David Tenney Seattle Sounders

Read More


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

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.


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

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


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

Liquid error: Could not find asset snippets/modify_lightbox_snippet.liquid