Planning an athlete’s season or phase of training relies on a combination of coach’s training theory and hard objective analysis of results. The periodization of training in a classical sense is being reinvented through more evidence-based approaches by coaches. In practice, coaches use early principles as well, since some concepts pass the test of time.
In this Academy Guide, we review modern requirements for long-term athletic development and the immediate needs of winning today. The use of an athlete management system in concert with performance education can dramatically improve the success of an athlete if proper checks and balances are in place. Included in this review are a select group of indispensable responsibilities of a modern high-performance director and strength and conditioning coach. With each planning and periodization requirement are considerations that should be factored in when reviewing athlete training and evaluation.
Planning Training vs. Periodization Training
What separates periodization from planning are the expectations of the effects of the training rather than simple outlines of what is to be done. With periodization, the theoretical adaptations and qualities from the structure of planning are currently controversial in the coaching community. Various researchers and authors argue that many of the traditional ideas and concepts are simply unfounded, and training theory should be cautiously optimistic about the impact of structuring training around the hypothetical concepts of the past.
General planning, using an approach that merely reflects the needs of a calendar or set of dates, is not as simple as it may appear. More times than not, logistical issues surface where planning a workout becomes difficult due to limited time or access to an athlete. Coaches should identify areas where training is interpreted or impaired, construct flexible training programs, and attempt to address barriers to solid training sessions. The hybrid approach of implementing training concepts from modern training theory, as well as recognizing the real-world limitations of classical periodization, is currently a best practice. A Program Builder allows coaches the ability to make programming changes on-the-fly; balancing the limitations of an athlete’s in and out of season schedule with in-person and remote training sessions.
Profiling, Testing, and Athlete Talent Identification
Reverse periodization is a popular approach to planning a season—a coach identifies where they want to end with preparation and creates workouts that build to that state of performance. Unfortunately, even if you know where you want to end up, you can’t create workouts until you know where your athletes are in terms of various states of performance such as injuries, conditioning, strength levels, and skill development. For elite as well as intermediate athletes, the profiling of abilities is growing in popularity for good reason: The research supports the use and coaches appreciate the differences between athletes. Profiling is not testing, though. Testing is simply evaluating and measuring a quality of an athlete, while profiling is describing the necessary qualities that can be modified through intervention.
Talent identification is a far different and less concrete area of sport than athlete testing and profiling. One of the issues with extrapolating the potential of athletes at a young age is that predicting the future is nearly impossible and genetics are not fully understood within the scientific community. While it’s important to evaluate athletes early, the process should not dictate which sports athletes should participate in because joy and adversity may be necessary vehicles for improvement over the long run. Talent identification should be based on addressing very obvious characteristics that give an athlete the potential to reach their talent, not artificially try to intervene with success too early.
Injuries and Limited Athletes
Planning for injuries usually comes in the form of return-to-play programming. An athlete will likely sustain a meaningful injury sometime in their career, and it is rarely planned for or predicted. Thus, a coach usually manages injuries with alternative training or a period of time away from competition that focuses only on rehabilitation. Simulated training or practices are commonly employed when an athlete is limited; meaning, they are able to perform certain activities, but other more demanding actions are seen as a risk or interference with recovery from injury.
Experienced coaches should have workout plans already available for common and probable injuries, especially those that are not season-ending. When coaches are unprepared and succumb to “winging it,” the process is usually shallow in thought and strategy, leaving an athlete exposed to further injury or delayed recovery time. The Athlete Dashboards allow coaches to monitor and make on-the-fly adjustments for athletes at an increased risk of injury.
Monitoring Phases and Components of a Season
The benefits of modern monitoring practices and observing changes in power and conditioning from testing is that the process is audited with far more accuracy than before. In the past, coaches tested a few training qualities if they had access to sport science. Today, a performance coach has the same quality of instruments and research at their fingertips as scientists did in the past. Currently, not monitoring athletes during the year is considered unacceptable, and in the future, it could be viewed as negligent.
Different phases of training and competition are likely to have different patterns and expectations. For example, early training may not include much skill work or conditioning, while some periods may only have a focus on practice with a deloading period for peaking. Strategic resting for peaking in team and Olympic sport is growing in both applications and in research. What we do know is that scientifically tapering works in endurance sports and has some supporting evidence in power sports. Team sports usually don’t have the luxury of absolute rest, but creative coaches have found ways for athletes to stay fresh for competition without compromising preparation for the future.
As the adoption of athlete management systems increases, so will the ability to distinguish how often adaptations occur from training and how much of the earlier theoretical work is useful in the modern applied setting. If current best practices are used year after year, the possibilities of creating new training theories based on concrete data are possible, and that will require more attention to monitoring and athlete testing.
Detraining and Off-Season Management
The planning of active rest will involve a purposeful allowance of detraining and a time period to mentally recover from training and competition. One of the difficulties of high-performance sport is managing athletes who are not local. Professional athletes do not always live locally, and could be living on a different continent entirely. Correspondence programs or monitoring of private workouts improves the likelihood that an organization can anticipate potential risks or specific needs when an athlete returns to the training grounds. Therefore, the monitoring of training outside of the confines of the facility is essential to reduce injury and illness come pre-season, a high-risk period. Studying how an athlete detrains is a growing area in sport, as long seasons involve a period of declining power or strength in some circumstances. In addition to detraining, the challenge of managing the remote care of rehabilitation continues to be a problem with organizations. Private rehabilitation centers as well as coaching are available today, and athletes are electing to take their fate into their own hands.
Those athletes that follow the organization’s training program and live locally are perfect controls. Any athlete who is fully compliant with both the coaching and training programs is useful to determine the necessary variables that could be holding back their peers who are not using training staff and their workouts. The analysis of athletes who are involved with private programs will continue to grow in the future. As injuries and poor performance continue because of a lack of records and training information, the demand for comprehensive athlete management systems will increase.
Season and Career Development Evaluation
A review of success, failure, and stagnation is a part of coaching and athlete development. Athletes deserve training that has a consistent process for developing them in the long run and enabling winning in the short run, if they are an emerging elite or professional. The proper way to evaluate a season is to compare the progress of development or success internally and externally. If an athlete made progress within their age group or level of competition, it’s fair to say success has occurred, but only if the athlete demonstrated growth when compared to themselves.
Career development is far more difficult to evaluate with team sport, as only a few athletes will be under the watchful eye of one organization. Usually, parents and the athletes themselves dictate what is considered success or not, since they are present all the way through their career. Knowing that athletes will change coaches, teams, and even countries at times, it’s important that individuals provide documentation or records from the previous team or training center. Facilities and national bodies should look at as much data as possible to determine why an athlete is succeeding, stagnating, or regressing. Often, the variables that aren’t recorded are the cause of the problems, creating confusion on how to solve the issue at hand. Access to sport psychologists and mentors is paramount if athletes are to fulfill their potential. Sport success is a very human endeavor, and other information outside of what happens on the field and in the weight room is necessary today.
Enhance Your Planning and Periodization
Whatever your philosophy and methodology, oversight of your training is recommended. Coaches are known to harbor traditions and be creatures of habit, for good reason. Timeless principles of training work, but not all ideas are as effective or powerful as we thought they were. Not all training theories are obsolete or invalid—some are simply misinterpreted or could be difficult to evaluate with available methods of science. Combining both modern software and sport research with traditional pedagogical practices is a winning strategy.
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