EVERY South African professional football player’s stress levels rise over the next few days, because next week marks the return to football in pre-season training.
For some who have overindulged, over partied and spent too which time vegetating in front of the TV, pre-season can be summed up by waking up too scared to open your closet door for fear of the Tokoloshi coming to get you.
For others who have been keeping a low but moderate rate of conditioning and regulating their weight to where they left off last season, pre-season won’t be so scary. Some clubs locally and abroad have conditioning coaches who just make you run and run.
Science is increasingly becoming the staple diet for top professional clubs and is moving to a more scientific approach in getting athletes prepared for the season. Strength, speed and conditioning are critical areas for development according to Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard explains that training with the right performance coach on building the optimum stamina levels both on long and short distances is critical. Proper pre-season training can shape a player’s season and be the difference between scoring 15 and 20 goals in the next 12 months. Pre-season training is the most critical part of a professional’s development for the season, yet so many clubs get it wrong.
Clubs that can afford the science of training don’t spend money on it and new clubs coming into the PSL don’t spend money either. They are too busy spending their money on buying and acquiring new players on limited budgets. If all clubs introduce a mandatory scientific approach to their speed work, strength development and conditioning then perhaps Bafana Bafana wouldn’t have to rely on a technical default to try and qualify for the World Cup.
How would a PSL club go about getting their players conditioned the correct way so that the athlete is scoring or defending at a 25% higher ratio?
Clubs need to search for sports scientists who have a track record both at improving individuals, teams and who have actually coached at the highest level. What is important is that the performance coach must understand the principle of speed and the principle of training. If the coach mentions anything in the first three weeks about running around the field aimlessly, my suggestion is fire him and have security remove him from the training field because he has no business being there.
Before each training session the team needs to perform the “nuts and bolts preparation”. These are carefully orchestrated sequences of technique, skills and drills which include proper dynamic warm up, pre-habilitation exercises, movement preparation and muscle activation followed by technique of movement.
Pre-season always starts off with the weight room. This is the only real time a player has to build the size of his engine safely and progressively. During the season, you can really only hit the weight room once a week because of the amount of field-based training and games you will be playing, so use this time wisely.
Each player should undergo a three-day assessment between scheduled training sessions. Setting aside one big day for an assessment is dangerous and runs the high risk of injury during this early stages due to the intensity that accompanies assessments.
Spreading it over three days allows more accurate data collection and is less taxing on the athlete. The assessment is vital for the scientist to design individual customised programmes to purely work on weaknesses. One size does not fit all and too often teams hit the gyms and the circuit training machines without purpose.
The next secret weapon for teams is speed training. During the first three weeks, athletes will not be allowed to sprint at 100%.
If your coach is making you run at full capacity during early pre-season make sure you are saying your prayers at night because I can guarantee you, especially with weight training, that your chances of injury are off the charts.
The best speed gain comes from understanding as a player what speed really is. Understand how the body is supposed to move, operate and function. Then, through a sequence of progressive speed techniques, drills and exercises, you start to build the team’s speed mechanics and fix up any possible areas that might contribute to a groin or hamstring strain during the in-season.
Four weeks in, you start increasing the intensity of speed training but still not at full sprinting capacity. Eight weeks to improve a team’s speed safely is possible but only with a trained expert.
At the end of each training session the team will undergo dynamic core development, abs and lower back strengthening exercises followed by a final rest and recovery session with foam rollers, PNF stretching, rolling sticks and partnered stretching. Performance training is a science and in understanding this concept, I ask you this question. Would you allow anyone to drive your high performance Ferrari parked in the driveway?
Then why would you settle for anything less than the best and most skilled scientists training your multi-million rand team.