Conditioning athletes - THE WEAKEST LINK
A recurring discussion I seem to have every week at some point with an athlete or coach is about the reasons and rationale of Strength and Conditioning training in general and for athletes specifically. The acceptance that a balanced weight & conditioning training should really be a staple of supporting activities for any athlete - amateur of semi-pro - is a concept that is not generally welcomed in the ambitioned amateur sportsworld in Luxembourg yet. Usually the skills coach doubles as S&C coach - and do the few things they grew up with in their respective sports - which are frequently sub-standard legacy approaches. Often the S&C program is just not tailored to the actual sports and not to the specific need of the specific player. S&C sessions are approached as the normal skills drills - as a group session where all need to do the same - very often done in the same session (ie drills and skills). Or the team is sent to "the gym" - to do "whatever". In short: The quality, timing, frequency and specificity is not organized optimally.
Why is there - in my opinion - so much to gain from a good organized S&C plan in conjunction with the sports specific skills training:
The benefits fall into 3 categories
- Injury prevention (pre-habilitation)
- Performance enhancement & autonomie
When we do an intake of an athlete we do Function Motion Screening. I have yet to do an intake where a person did NOT have a deficiency in a motion pattern. Lacking ankle, knee, hip, lower, mid, upper back, shoulders... When an athlete has movement issues - he WILL HURT HIMSELF when the training load increases in his sports, or in the gym. Usually the fixes are not rocket science - but need to be included as simple corrective moves into their program. When we did a team warm-up session last year with a lady’s volleyball team - it looked like the landing on Omaha beach - most of the athletes could not perform simple movements like a deep overhead squat with a stick. When we take athletes through a basic strength program combined with corrective moves - we create a general "ROBUSTNESS" - which results in pre-habilitation - meaning a direct impact on lowering the level of injuries that the athlete will experience. Evidence in the extreme is that I recently had 2 athletes both involved in heavy car accidents - with one car actually turning over multiple times - and the persons walking away from it without injuries. Of course, there was a lot of luck involved as well here - but I am convinced a non-trained person - less robust - would have suffered major injuries. I personally experience the effect when I do my off-road motorbike driving - there falling off your bike is not exceptionally ... my "body armor" (muscle mass) is a great asset in absorbing shocks.
At ATC - during an intake - I often encounter sports people which are just not athletes. They seem to be able to only play basketball forward, cannot do a “clean” as a volleyball athlete, cannot push a sled, really jump (I mean not raising up the legs to jump on a box - but use hip extensors to catapult yourself in the sky), cannot "hinge" and are not able to carry stuff around. For me an athlete needs an "athletic base". Of course, the needs must be tailored to the sports they do - but starting out - to create a base there is not much difference. A boxer who can hold up his arms very long and can keep moving around will be a nightmare for his opponent. The mixed martial art person who can rollover on the floor with a 75 kg ball for minutes will drive his opponent crazy… a volleyball player who can keep doing deep "cleans" during the whole match has more time to play the ball ... On top of the actual physical performance enhancement - something mental happens as well. The athletes feel that they are "prepared" - and notice the difference in their body - which has a serious effect on their attitude. A decent S&C program will appeal to the autonomous mental development of the athlete – as he will have a responsibility to conduct the sessions very often on his own – independently, reporting his progress to his coache(s).
When an athlete gets injured. the question is no what cannot be done anymore, but what CAN STILL BE DONE. I had volleyball athletes that had an ankle issue – who got in to the gym (after a severe bulocking from me “to get your ass in here..” after the depressing speech that “she could do nothing for 6 weeks) ) and trained very much everything still, and some special attention to “balance board moves” for the ankle. Coming back in great shape and strong once they could assume skill straining again. This is good for the team, the athlete and the coach. The mental aspect of getting to the gym and work around an injury creates a purpose for the athlete and keep him/her mental on edge – much better then sitting 6 weeks at home sulking and getting depressed and out of shape.
Coaching is a game of comprehension. At ATC we use the Sideline sports XPS platform to coordinate training between various types of coaches. We have very nice case studies building up in Luxembourg with the squash federation and associated squash academies – and are starting to provide S&C guidance to clubs through the system. If you are interested in XPS – please contact me.