Part of the motivation for these blogs has been driven by the Covid19 issues and the amount of time we have and the training on fields and gyms we have lost. But this time allows us to build in other areas often disregarded.
But it is also driven by the desire to show people thats skills for sport and indeed life are such a broad spectrum. IN sport we get extremely bogged down in skills, to a torturous extreme in the UK & Ireland around the various field and court sports and many coaches and most of the public see skills as a dummy solo in football or a step over in soccer or one off moments that thrill a crowd. Those exhibitions of high level technique and solution finding in high pressure stakes are important, they thrill us and they bring the crowds in, they excite young kids to grow to love sports and activity. But they are a tiny part of the overall picture.
There are technical, tactical, movement, mental skills as well. I hope to touch on all of these in some way in this series. They all can be developed. Physical capacity is the low hanging fruit, the basic physical conditioning and strength work we do. It doesn't make it any less important, but its the easiest to work on. Its important for our health, mental and physical and if not conditioned well for the game pretty much everything else becomes irrelevant as we will not be able to stay up.
For a start we will look at the Mental skills we can work on, because in ways they underpin or can be used as a tool - especially in this situation - to improve the other skills. We can build resilience (Sarkar, 2018) to come back from mistakes, but also to continually work on a new skill or development of a learned skill (Moran & O' Shea, 2020) or to develop positive self talk which can lead to increased focus and performance (Roberts & Kristiansen, 2012) . There is information, anecdotes and tasks in this for coaches as well as players and i hope both take something and there is also element coaches and players can work on together.
But Imagine (pun intended) hitting more free throws, making more hooks and blocks, developing your weaker side to such a point that you can kick off both feet with equal confidence? Well actually focused imaging can help, as can many other techniques.
I am not a Sports Psychologist, however i do take a deep interest in the mindset part of the game and reading and talking to those in Sports Psychology, Skill Acquisition, Resilience Research, Coach Education areas of expertise. It is really obvious that the Psycho-Social element of the games are THEE most important factors. Having coached 26 years in multiple sports across 3 continents much of what they are telling me and i am reading through research tallies with my experiences, my education and also notably with the coaches i find influenced me or others around me most. Often these coaches were not necessarily educated in the realm of Coaching science or indeed formally educated at all, but they had it. Some may call it emotional intelligence, others would call it motivational skills. Whatever it was they had it. Its not so much that people who specialise in these areas are better than any type of coach, its that they have dedicated their time and maybe careers to diving deep down into the various areas we are discussing.
Very often i have heard from people in the areas of Mindset, psychology, resilience, is “we are all psychologists”. And this plays to the experiences we have all had where we met coaches or teachers or leaders who just had that ability to get performance from all of us, no matter what the background or skill level. But with modern life Pop Psychology, raising youth anxiety levels mixed with still a nice bit of “ra ra ra, this is the way we did it in our day” we may need to dig a little deeper and expand or breath of coaching and playing a little more to challenge and enjoy the games and activities that little bit more.
We believe sport as having 4 primary goals – 1) Public Health; 2) Educative; 2) Elite Development Goal 4) cultural preservation
We are in a very unique circumstance now as coaches, athletes and those who takes their health and fitness seriously.
However there are numerous ways of staying or even getting fitter. In fact i see this as an opportunity to become more athletic as we can do a broader range of exercises and challenge our energy systems in a different way that's not always possible. That is physiological side.
However what about our skills?
Our Sports Skills and out Mental Skills?
No they won't improve by hitting a ball off the wall. Or in the case of Mental skills by doing nothing. We can work on both, somewhat simultaneously.
If you are from Ireland you will understand what Hurling is, or maybe you do and you are not from here. Its an immensely skillful and aggressive game played 15v15 on a grass field. It is exceptionally skillful, and science would suggest there is so much going on its the most skillful sport in the world. Read Ed Coughlan (a Skill Acquisition expert here in Cork) on this subject.
Look at this video below and then tell me that hitting a ball off a wall supports hurling.
Watch the whole 2 minutes
Skill acquisition is seen as the development of a functional performer-environment relationship (Araújo & Davids, 2011; Zelaznik, 2014). The learner does not exist independently of a learning and performance context. (Chow; Davids, Button, Renshaw 2016)
If you look at the goal TJ is surrounded by players, players that weren't there hitting a ball against a wall. What he did have though was the feel of where he was, the distance from goal, the little bit of space if he doubled back that he knew from this range if it got through the scrum of bodies the only way it would be saved was if it hit the keeper. I believe it was a % shot and one done in a contextual situation where the time of the game mattered ( a miss would be no big deal), the corner back slipped and the opposition were caught cold after HT break.
This is not something created alone.
So hitting a ball off a wall unopposed does not improve you as a hurler in our opinion and is supported by a fair chunk of research, unless you are a complete novice. (Skill Acquisition in Sport, Hodges & Williams, 2020)
I would suggest that for a competent hurler or footballer if they decided to not do anything closed skill practice at all for a 4-6 week period like in this lock-down but just stayed reasonably fit, 15 mins into a training session they would be up to speed to where anyone else would be who may have hit 1000's of ball off a wall.
In fact what it is most likely to do is enhance poor movement patterns or bad habits. If there is not a real deliberate element to the practice then it could actually be decreasing ability on a pitch. Hurling off a wall - repetitive nature of it could actually lead to over use injuries.
These ideas are not simply of theoretical value since too much repetitive practice of multi-articular actions, especially in early specialization pathways, could lead to increased risk of overuse injuries in developing athletes undergoing rapid growth and maturation (Davids et al., 2013).
And the amount of time you spend at it, or indeed any development, may not matter either.
The nature and design of the practice activities undertaken by each developing athlete are far more important than calculating the time spent practicing, which seems to vary greatly (Hambrick, Oswald, et al., 2014; Hambrick, Altmann, et al., 2014.)
The same stands for pretty much all team field and court sports with the exception of close drills such as free throw shooting in Basketball, Free Taking in Hurling or Gaelic Football, Goal Kicking in Rugby and Aussie Rules and so on. However even those tasks lose the environmental factors that will test performance and may add anxiety to performing a closed skill, for example in front of 60,000+ people in games you trained 20 years for.
Back to Hurling. There are 2 walls people use - Hurling Alleys in clubs (now closed) and the gable end of your house.
So what can hurling off a wall actually do to be of benefit;
What it does not do;
*Coach note - Players after a growth spurt may face new challenges with their "new body". A young boy can grow 5 inches in a summer or winter break. His new limb lengths may interfere with his coordination and movement skills - be patient and supportive. Equipment like shoes, Hurley, helmets, rackets etc all may need to change. For a small period he/she may not be the same player you saw a few months ago.
Developing skill is about having an efficient Motor System, see this description of Motor Control
"Motor control can be defined as the study of how an individual can execute designated motor skills through the neuromuscular control process in response to external environmental demands (Haywood & Getchell, 2009; Latash & Lestienne, 2006)"
A major issue with traditional approaches is that they tend to promote a rather mechanistic view of human behaviour, failing to consider the wide array of constraints which impinge on an individual’s learning and performance including psychological, social and physical factors, (Chow; Davids, Button, Renshaw 2016)
When i have had these discussions in the past people come back with "Joe Canning said so, Pat Horgan said so, TJ Reid said so". Well i believe they may be wrong and either being paid to say it (good for them) or it is a bias of some description. Look at the names, look at their exceptional athletic ability first, then look at their clubs - Portumna, The Glen and Ballyhale. 3 of the most successful clubs in history of hurling with some of the greatest characters to grow up listening to and aspire to. Look at their names, surrounded by siblings and parents who had notable success. Nature + Nurture, environmental factors trump all. The Psycho-Social elements at play here are at the top end of the scale. Now if Sean Og O' Halpin said it was effective for him, its most likely it was significantly more so arguably than the other 3 - he arrived in Ireland at 11/12, at the tail end of the important sports skill development range between 9-12. Again though his athleticism and his support structure, his club were exceptional, the school attended and the fact they were strong at the time were all factors in carrying him along. Self determination aside, an obvious factor in all these cases.
But athletically these 4 men are extremely strong and mobile. The underpinning physical trait of modern hurling. That's the first thing that's gives them an advantage.
It is often thrown at S&C Coaches or indeed field or skills coaches that share or encourage their methods that "S&C never put the ball over the ball" or "those games are grand but we need to practice the SKILLS of the game". By practicing the skills of the game, they mean unopposed drills usually. However we believe that physical development actually supports skill development and unlocks potential. It allows more opportunities to put the ball over the bar. Skill isn't much use to you if you cannot win your own ball, find space, beat your man and physically compete. But these are actually skills as well, in fact some of the most skillful movements performed now are actually in ruck situations which are highly physical exchanges in attempts to gain possession. The clever flick and intelligent positive positioning (as in be in a place to attack the other goal) are a brilliant element of the modern game often lost by commentators.
Genetic abilities, limb length, muscle fibre content and other inherited attributes have limits. We can all improve our athleticism and even the content and speed of our muscles, but unfortunately there are limitations. We have ceilings to our abilities. Having read some papers (see below) on the physical abilities of club and county players, speed, power and the ability to reproduce high speed runs and explosive outputs is the most obvious difference physically.
Basically choose your parents well, and then get them to move to an area with a great tradition of hurling, or football or whatever you want to be great at.
According to an ecological dynamics rationale of skill acquisition, it is the information–movement relationship that transfers between the task constraints of a faithfully simulated practice task and a competitive performance environment (Pinder et al., 2011a)
"This compelling rationale indicates that the information present in a performance environment needs to be represented in a practice environment designed to simulate constraints in specific individual and team sports " (Chow; Davids, Button, Renshaw 2016)
Or - in lay mans language - How we practice is how we will play!!!
That said, we all want to get better and we all want to reach the highest level of skill we can.
So how can we do that in a quarantine state of lock-down?
Here are 3 we ways we suggest you can try;
The difference in levels from lower to middle range is general physical. You get a Junior team exceptionally fit you give yourself a great chance of success. However as you go up the grades the one standout trait above all is Mindset, awareness, focus, vision, scanning, anticipation and many more elements greatly controlled between the ears. We will try to help athletes and coaches just think about a small few of those elements in this series of blogs.
In part 2 we will start with our suggestions on Mindset discussing the areas of Self talk, Goal Setting, Focus & Mindfulness for sport, Imagery & Intensity, Routines & Motivation and offer some suggestions and solutions to help athletes improve in times of downtime or away from the pitch
I love the pressure. I just look forward to it. " Daly Thompson, Olympic decathlon gold medalist
A little extra reading on 2 studies found in Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction
Chow, Jia Yi; Davids, Keith; Button, Chris; Renshaw, Ian
1. Spring Board Diving Practice
This important idea was investigated in a study of traditional training practices in elite springboard diving. For example, Barris and colleagues (2014) studied preparation for take-off in an elite sample of Olympic-level springboard divers when diving into a pool and under the different task constraints of training in a dry-land facility comprising a foam pit. Elite divers tend to routinely practise in separate training environments (dry-land and pool), requiring differences in final performance outcomes, especially landing (feet first and head first, respectively). Divers seek to practise the same preparation phase, take-off and initial aerial rotation in both practice environments, although there is little empirical evidence to suggest that the tasks completed in the dry-land training environment are representative of those performed in the pool environment. The concept of conditioned coupling in ecological dynamics signifies that performance of different movement components would remain dependent on each other, and slight variations in task constraints could lead to different emergent coordination patterns (Davids et al., in press). In line with these theoretical predictions, it was expected that emergent self-organisation tendencies under the two distinct task constraints would lead to differences in preparation. Barris et al. (2014) observed similar global topological characteristics in all participants who used the same joint coordination patterns during dive take-offs completed in the dry-land and aquatic environments. However, as a group, participants showed statistically significant differences in performance at key events (second approach step, hurdle-step, hurdle jump height and board angles during the hurdle and at landing) during the preparation phase of dive take-offs completed in dry-land and aquatic training environments. For example, participants showed significantly less board angle depression at landing (from the hurdle jump) during take-offs completed in the dry-land area than during those completed in the pool.
2. Soccer Practice of Passing
These ideas on the relationship between carefully designing affordances in the constraints of practice tasks and the processes of transfer have also been confirmed in the context of team games. Travassos et al. (2012) examined practice task design in team sports, reporting data to show how enhancing representativeness of a practice simulation might increase opportunities for transfer in team games training. Travassos and colleagues (2012) studied futsal players during a ball-passing practice task and manipulated informational uncertainty (of passing direction) for practising players. Informational uncertainty during passing practice was increased under four distinct task constraints and compared with passing behaviours observed during a competitive match. They made the plausible assumption that greater similarity of behaviours observed during practice, compared with competitive performance, signalled the transfer of skill in passing. Intermediate-level football players were required to perform simple and complex passing drills (straight versus diagonal versus diagonal and lateral passing lanes with more than one ball in use). In their study, the terms ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ were differentiated by the amount of variability designed into the practice task simulations. The simple passing drill took place in a single predetermined lane (including less environmental variability), whereas the complex passing drill involved multiple passing opportunities which were emergent (pass direction emerged depending on whether the receiver had a ball or not and therefore included more environmental variability). Speed and accuracy of passing performance in practice tasks were compared with observations during competitive performance. Results showed the greatest similarities in passing speed and accuracy between performance in the multiple passing lane condition and actual competitive performance. There was too much regularity in ball speed and accuracy in the passing task constraints with fewer options, compared to the level observed in task constraints with more options (predetermined versus emergent conditions). These measures showed how transfer of learning was predicated on action fidelity between skill performance in practice and competitive performance. According to Travassos et al. (2012, p. 5), ‘increasing the number of emergent passing actions offered in a practice task design was more representative of competitive performance’. These data show how the informational constraints of practice tasks should be designed to represent the informational constraints of a competitive performance environment in team sports. Data revealed that, for the skilled performers, predetermining limited passing options did not lead to similar levels of speed and accuracy as did creating emergent, multiple passing options and competitive performance. The findings suggested how transfer between practice task constraints and the performance environment can be achieved in team sports training. In order to understand how to ensure transfer of informational constraints of a competitive performance environment in a practice task simulation, an important concept to understand is representative design.
- Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction
Chow, Jia Yi; Davids, Keith; Button, Chris; Renshaw, Ian
- Skill Acquisition in Sport Research, Theory and Practice, Nicola J. Hodges and A. Mark Williams
- A Comparison of Anthropometric and Performance Profiles Between Elite and Sub-Elite Hurlers, (Keane 2019)
- An investigation into the variation that exists between the physical performance indicators of hurling players at different levels of participation
Murphy, Andrew https://ulir.ul.ie/bitstream/handle/10344/2832/Murphy_2012_investigation.pdf?sequence=5
- The positional technical and running performance of sub-elite Gaelic football , Mangan 2019 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24733938.2019.1679872
And something to read before Part 2 to help us along those lines
- Effects of a cognitive specific imagery intervention on the soccer skill performance of young athletes: Age group comparisons Krista J. Munroe-Chandler https://www.researchgate.net/publication/38138264_Does_Mental_Practice_Work_Like_Physical_Practice_without_Information_Feedback
- Using cognitive general imagery to improve soccer strategies Krista J. Munroe-Chandler
We might be veering into the skills coaches territory here (they may get a bit antsy here but………. I believe we all should reside anyway, at least at club and sub-elite level) but all field and court sports are played from one end to the other. We defend the left hand side goal and attack the right hand side goal. After 30/35/40/45 minutes we switch over and go opposite ways. Seems simple right?
Then why is so much “conditioning games”, “games based approach” and “small sided games” played in 20x20/30x30/40x40 squares?
Bare with me while I explain.
Games played in squares are usually based around retaining possession. They can be very good for specific conditioning for some elements of the game and good to enhance tackling and other skills in whatever way you want to manipulate them. And I use these games. They are more than useful. They are particularly useful for deliberate practice and repeating certain skills and task sunder a repetition without repetition setting. But these skills need to be expanded out and transferred to more realistic scenarios as well. However what I have seen a lot of is an approach of “Conditioned Games” + MAS Running and hey presto we’re ready. And that might make you a very competitive team, it is unlikely to differentiate you from the other better sides.
Here is a very good simple small sided game that is about possession and using the extra man.
However if the only conditioned games you use are these then all you are doing is getting your players fit for the game in a 20x20/30x30 or whatever size area. Games like soccer have overlapping full backs, Gaelic football has players regularly running 80-120 meter to join in attacks. Then having to shoot. Having to recycle ball. Turn around on turnover. And so on.
Tackling is another area where we can over do the “squares “. Squares can be good for front on tackling and possession under pressure. But they rarely deal with near handed tackling in Gaelic Football for instance or trying to slow a player down who has been near top speed for 30 Meters. Near hand tackling is the most butchered skill in Gaelic Football and I have observed that in combination with poor conditioning literally costing teams championships. End to end scenarios and overloading attackers on defenders can work on many of these skills both technically and with a conditioning element in real game time. All sports have similar issues in athletes using the wrong side of the body. It can be trained.
Specific games where a teams attack, defend and transition the length of the field are critical to both conditioning, developing patterns of play and skill acquisition. The end zone game is a useful game for fitness and training transition and turnover awareness and strategy.
End zone games we use regularly for Gaelic Football, Hurling, Camogie and Hockey is a good example of this. Like the diagram below there is a pitch with an end zone. The
objective is to carry ball into end zone or pass to a team mate in zone. Then after securing possession and the score the player and team turn and attack the opposite end zone.
They hold onto ball for as long as possible and score as many end zones as possible.
A game like this is great for working on awareness on turnovers. It Gaelic Games it promotes off the shoulder running.
To advance it you could put a time limit on reaching each zone and failure to do so in say 6 seconds means a turnover.
Further advancement would be to use the playing area both ways. Play long and play wide. So effectively there would be endzones on all 4 sides. The coach just calls “wide game” or “long game”. What this forces is players to defend in different ways, defending wide game is much harder and will force a different type of defending both in the tackle but also in working as a unit and communication will be critical. The turn around a will be faster. This is quite advanced and players should probably be relatively fresh starting this game. Do it too late in a session and quality will drop. Huge amount of thinking involved.
So a coach can call out;
End zone tag
Another very close relation of above with the variation of facing different players on different plays and those players having a certain amount of freshness.
This is a good version with large numbers
The Tag game is gamification - it gets the players moving and thinking in patterns that will enhance mindset, movement and conditioning relative to the sport. We see a huge amount of these types of games out there and again they have value. However there is another level.
Kick Out Chaos
Here is a more game specific game I created recently for a Gaelic Football team. The purpose was to create multiple game like questions for players to answers from kickouts and chaos around quick kickouts, the press (or not to press). This game will be on the move and communication and decision making will be on the fly, not set up in a very strategic way. A strategy from kickouts is not a bad thing, but all models are flawed and as Mike Tyson beautifully put it “everyone has a plan until they get a smack in the mouth”. While we can not prepare specifically if that smack in the mouth comes from an uppercut (harassing your goal keeper), a jab (ball punched 30 metres back in on the break) or is preceded by some feint (letting your poorest ball player have it for 20 metres). But this happening continually and end to end (suggested 21 to 21 here) forces the players to think on their feet, communicate, turn around, play wide from a short ball, run through the middle from a marked kickout and all the modern fundamentals of Gaelic Football. We know turnovers are critical, we know kickouts are critical and we know the game is played end to end. So we design accordingly.
But here is the real kicker
Too many small sided games could well be the reason we have not seen too much of a change in injuries and a rise in Movement issues, ACL’s and Hip impingements.
John Goodwin of Fulham FC Youth Academy has even gone as far as saying on the Pacey Performance Podcast that SSG’s are making kids “move horribly” and that the over emphasis on them means they have to biomechanically re-train them and advised to balance SSG’s with running mechanics. Running mechanics for me is technical work (A Skips, Boom-Booms, drop steps etc) allied to straight line running, curved running, COD (change of direction) running, sprinting, sprinting from various constraints and using LSGs as well.
This is where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The vast majority of coaches are doing it as a hobby. They do not have the time or contacts or research available people like us have. So i believe it is very important to improve and broaden the knowledge out there so coaches do not just follow the next fad as what we are starting to see with SSGs is overuse injuries due to more changes of direction, more instances of high sheer force and cutting angles. Very often the amounts of these movements actually outweigh the reality of the the same volume of these movements in the game itself. So despite thinking we are better preparing our people for the games we are over preparing them and putting them at risk to serious chronic injuries which can affect them greatly in later life and affect quality of life and even mortality. Generally a “train everything all the time” approach works best in my experience. This can be slower as a development model for a team, but the long term results both collectively and physically will be higher and more sustainable. This does not mean soft or easy training, it just means balanced training. At various times of the year you will load some portions more heavily.
Building the brain is a part of conditioning for sport. The better a decision maker an athlete becomes the less wastes of energy there will be. The less wastes of energy there is the fitter you are. Long Sided Games bring us closer to being more intelligent players.
Use Med Ball Circuits, Plyos and Bounding Using Med Balls, plyometrics and bounding to replace most gym work for a period of time, particularly in tapering phases can have a huge effect on your athletes. There is a limit on the returns in the gym alone for Field Sports athletes in any case and we also have to be aware of the overall fatigue costs. That’s not to say we ignore the gym completely it’s just we bring a different focus and help transfer our new found strength onto the field by making our tendons more robust and better able to transfer force, our exercise movements faster (thus closer to game speed), enhance the short-stretch cycle (explanation here) and generally get more athletic.
It’s based on scientific evidence that shows that a concentric (shortening) muscular contraction is much stronger if it immediately follows an eccentric (lengthening) contraction of the same muscle – like the bending of the knees immediately prior to jumping, which uses stretch reflexes in the quads, hams and calf muscles.
Many coaches (particularly American) will argue people have to have certain strength standards before they perform Jumps and Bounds and Plyometrics. While a coach has to be careful with load, volume and type of exercise this idea is a poorly thought hangover from Powerlifting and Weightlifting circles. The main argument against jumping and plyometrics was that if you are not really strong then you can not absorb the force when landing and this can lead to injury. Unfortunately injuries are a lot more complex than that. Kids have been jumping and landing for 1000’s of years without injury and i have known some animals in the gym to rupture ligaments from very small drops.
Consider this table of ground contact times below
Sample Ground Contact Times based on Activity
Activity Time (sec)
Source: AM J Sports Med. 1986 Nov-Dec; 14(6): 501-10.
Also you will see above that simple running is 200ms, this is considered quick enough ground contact times to be called plyometrics. We consider quick plyos to be <250ms and slow plyos to be >250ms.
So lets say we consider running to be anything over 17 kmph, most club Gaelic Footballers will do 800-1500 M of running over 17 kmph in any game (estimated based on elite results from here). Based on this plyometrics should not be a problem, or bounding or Jumps for that matter. However, it is still very wise to layer them up appropriately and help and consultation or program writing and instruction from an S&C Coach is desirable. Done well though and the results can be spectacular.
If you look at this image from Derek Hansen you will see that Maximum strength and explosive power are only part of the continuum of speed, acceleration, Deceleration, change of direction and Max Speed. Our bodies ability to explode and to spend as little time on the ground as possible is determined by many factors and can be trained and manipulated through many means. In a very simple explanation the gym exercises build force and power to push off the ground, the jumps, hops, skips and bounds increase the pace at which your do that.
When done in an organized and layered fashion exercise methods like Plyometrics can have a distinct effect on our injury resilience and the strength and quality of tendons and ligaments.
In terms of where you put them in the session;
Warm Up (with some easy jumps & Plyos, low level of included). It’s important to have some game based activities also, keeping the game as close to all out efforts will help with transferability (in my opinion and experience)
Sprints or Bounds - pick one after warm up. No longer than 15-20M at the start with Bounds. Use speed bounds as well (bounds with a run in) Athletes should have some strength training done and up to recently shown decent relative strength levels. Because when you bound you are putting multiples of your own Bodyweight into the ground forcefully, being stronger decreases the possibility of injuries.
Plyometrics - These should be done after the Sprints or Bounds. A simple 2 to 4 exercise circuit would work well. I like hops to start with on a 10:10/15:15/20:20 work:rest basis. It depends on the level and training age of your team. Build slowly with 1 set of 10:10 working up to maybe 4 sets over a number of sessions. Generally strength training comes before plyo’s in a session. Sprinting is plyometric so technically everyone has performed them. However repetitive vertical jumps have to be built up slowly as there is a lot of force going through your lower limbs when doing exercises like pogo hops, multiples of your own Bodyweight.
Plyometrics are often confused with jumps as well, going by sports science standards plyometric movements involve displacement of the body off the ground and ground contact time to be <200 milliseconds
Then technical, tactical, game play and running conditioning could take place.
A simple circuit I use a lot is;
If doing multiple sets take a 1-2 minute rest in between (longer for longer reps). This is a variation of a circuit I learned from American Sprint & Jump Coach Boo Schexnayder. While always wary of just copying and pasting any coaches methods I read and watched articles and videos Boo was involved in and his approach made a lot of sense both practically and scientifically. And he has had great success with his methods at all levels. Coaches who are successful at varying levels always need investigation. It’s shows a wide berth of coaching skills and knowledge. Many coaches get lucky with a talented bunch, and then get asked to coach more talented bunches for a while. And then get found out. Not guys like Boo who has a serious set of principles but has clearly evolved over time as well.
This study shows that with plyometrics and strength training muscular performance and longer speed running improves, this is probably through efficiency as opposed to the development of strength or power. (Mike Young 2018)
Med Ball use
Medicine Balls are around a long time and have been under utilised for just as long. An unfortunate association through boxing of having them dropped from a height on your stomach may be one reason for this. However in recent years that has changed. Exactly how Med Ball work transfers to athleticism is not really completely understood, but their use certainly seem to illicit better movement patterns. Med ball circuits have multiple values and they can be put anywhere. They can even be used as a low Lactate finisher. Because they are light and the movements are simple yet global they are not likely to be an injury hazard. Then can be added to tempo running as active rests, put in between technical drills or Small Sided Games to break up a session and add a “fitness” or Cardiac Output Effect (Aerobic Capacity Builder). Med Balls can be used prior to weights to help warm up as a primer or to simply move through general compound movements.
I also use Countermovement throws as warm ups for Olympic lifts and in particularly the Snatch and its variations as the movements are quite similar and it is a good way over activating the musculature involved in overhead and torso extension movements.
Standard throws we use are
You can get very fancy with advanced athletes and them drop catching, depth jumping to throwing, catching distally, hopping, one legged etc etc. However for the vast majority of athletes and particularly in team settings keep it really simple.
Med Balls often can be fun for relays. Nobody will throw the med ball far enough that when they chase it they will get anywhere near top speed. One of the benefits though is that we get players accelerating out of various positions late in training. Emphasizing technique and good movement late in sessions is always a good thing. But these can be used to infuse a bit of fun at end of a warm up as well.
Method for relay;
Other exercises to develop endurance and aerobic power endurance is full length of the field team throws. Groups of 3 work best and the team do a particular throw in a continuous manner up the field in rotation.
Med Balls do not need to be heavy, it is a very rare athlete really needs anything over 8KG. The point of them or to ballistically throw the ball as hard and as far as possible, and then often chase after it. 2-4KG Balls are plaenty for the absolute vast majority of amateur athletes.
If facilities allow Med Ball Exercises act well as contrast exercises with other more traditional strength exercises, so you could do some work before training in little tri-sets which will bring us a broad range of particular movements. Generally i look at these tri-sets in 2 parameters, vertical and horizontal. There are rotational and single limb work that can be done as well but this can be put in other areas of a program.
As an example on a Tuesday gym session you could do a stability-mobility warm up for 5 mins and then follow with this:
On a Thursday
As little of 2 sets of above can be very effective both in a development sense but also as a great primer to pitch work. Afterwards players could come in and complete 2 exercises of Push-Pull Upper body work for 5-8 minutes and hey presto you have 2 strength sessions done for the week as well and handed your players 1-2 nights off*
*If players are willing to do one extra night and you have built in the strength work into the main sessions then i would encourage 2 things;
Bounding is probably next level training after basic plyo’s, sprinting and jumps. In fact bounding really is a combo of all 3 when done well. The forces we apply into the ground rival or even exceed depth jumps, we are try to spend as little time on the ground as possible like plyo’s and sprinting and we are moving horizontally as close as we can get in a dynamic fashion without actually sprinting.
It is important to start with double limb bounding. The body hits the ground with about 3-4 times force of its own weight when we sprint. This can raise to well over double that with bounding. So while single leg bounding may not reach those levels they will still be significant and it won’t be 50% because it’s one limb, it will be significantly higher.
Also remember sprints, bounds and plyometrics ARE methods of strength training. So we can seriously reduce the lower body strength training and even leave it out completely sometimes. If you maintain weight lifting volume while increasing sprints, plyo’s and bounds you are asking for trouble, particularly in-season.
In recent social media posts I have been bemoaning the over use of weightlifting for amateur field sport athletes and it causing injury and also significantly impacting the “repeatability” of plays by some players whose body shape has changed significantly over recent years as well as clearly losing mobility which was impacting skill (a common example is going down to pick up ball in traditional Gaelic football movement). One way of pulling these players back close to the real athleticism they need for field sport would be to take away the gym complete for a few weeks and work on sprinting, plyo’s and bounding and just add in some basic upper body push and pull strength work and low level power work. Keep volume really low though, this is a case for the minimal dose needed approach.
But this is the case with newbies as well, just doing a small number of well executed plyo’s, jumps, bounds and sprints can have a remarkable effect on an athlete. Volume is not the key, especially at the start. However the results can be spectacular.
This study here suggests what many other studies and coaches have suggested for a long time that both plyometrics and weight training work hand in hand:
At certain times of the season if you have brought your group to a decent level and increased some volume you can use combo’s really effectively, either in or out of the gym.
You can do plyo combos, jump combos, bounding combos. Or you could mix them all up with each other and even some sprinting to use the potentiation effect.
Here is a sample circuit:
30-60 seconds between exercises, 2-4 minutes between sets. 1-2 sets is plenty for most amateur teams and it’s placement in the week is critical
This kind of resting is minimum but it can drive field coaches mad. Active rests between sets is probably the middle ground here with (very) light technical work.
There is a huge amount of information in this article. I suggest if you are not familiar with this type of conditioning with your teams (or you are an athlete), get a local S&C Coach to work with you for a while at least. If thats not in the budget then i suggest picking 1 thing and adding it to your sessions. Get it right, add some volume, then deload it. Thats where you will see the results.
5. Train skills in an open and competitive environment.
Use Space wisely
Bigger space in Gaelic Football, Soccer, Hurling (less so) will automatically increase kicking/striking and more movement but also Aerobic Capacity (if properly loaded timewise with work:rest ratio).
In an ideal world we would have GPS with Heart Rate monitors but that’s simply not going to be the case for the vast majority of coaches and clubs.
When we open up the size of the area we are playing and we keep player numbers below what would be the normal game representation we automatically constrain the game to force more or longer runs than would normally take place. The benefits of this are largely for fitness but they can also be tactical. For instance I would use large areas (say half pitch) with 4v4/5v5 games in Gaelic Football to increasing the amount of kicking some. If you want your team to kick more you have to practice it, but a kicking drill will not transfer to match day. By constraining the environment you create a situation where kicking is the better and easier option. The ball moves further and faster when we kick it rather than hand pass. The fitness element needs to be constrained by time. Maybe in early season this could be 2 mins on, 2 mins active rest (core work, light jogging, mobility work etc).
You can then work up to 4 minute games with 2 minutes rest. What can work well here is mixing up the aerobic games with some tempo runs or moderately active technical work. Again depending on team, ability and time of season.
Something like this can work in Early season
The case for a mix of running & SSG’s
Please remember though that game based activities have a neuromuscular and metabolic price to play. Too many coaches have gone to a games only approach even to all forms of fitness and conditioning. This is flawed in our opinion and arguably at the root of underperformance and even an increase in certain injuries. For instance straight line tempo running has little neuromuscular fatigue when done well and can raise the Aerobic capacity of any athlete. It’s boring yes, but depending on the stage of career or experience or the season it is important to remember that sometimes this is better than small sided games alone. Another early season session to avoid is lots of SSG (particularly in small areas) and shuttle sprints or other exercises that involve a huge amount of change of direction. If players have been off or just in the gym then their lower body and hips and knees in particular will not be conditioned to high volumes of changes of direction.
Another classic mistake we have observed over the years is midweek training sessions having more or less the same neuromuscular drain as the game at the weekend. If it’s all game based and competitive and uncontrolled then very often the sessions fatigue and load will come close to mirroring the actual games. If the operating sporting body arranged 4 games in 8 days for your team it’s most likely you would refuse to play at least 1 of those games, but it’s quite possible coaches are doing this on a regular basis. I am aware of Senior Inter County teams training on tuesdays and thursdays for close to 2 hours (with over 1 hour gym sessions mon/wed) and AvB games on the weekends off from the National League. So effectively over 10 weeks their output was arguably well north of the equivilant of 30 games. Sounds bananas right? Thats being nice and not factoring gym sessions. Now people wondered outloud why this team was not performing consistantly and up to expected standards. What followed then was an extensive injury list and a well below par championship, players opting out of the squad and supporters wondering why players seem disinterested. Almost all of the time it is not that the players are disinterested as modern Elite players simply cannot be disinterested such is the commitment, its that they were over trained. There are numerous examples of this across many sports with Spurs in the EPL a recent neighbouring example. Having watched their patterns over 3 years and understanding their managers like for training very hard, alot, the patterns are hard to ignore. Of course on the outside we are always guessing to an extent, but they are pretty educated guesses at this point. Always follow the patterns.
Freshness is key. All things being even a game between 2 evenly matched sides will most likely be decided by the freshest team.
The loading of SSG’s
Knowing most gym programs which are more Bodybuilding than Field Sport appropriate then its not likely that the gym work is specifically dealing with deceleration and change of direction work. Overloading too early with loads of changes of direction is opening up players to potential injury as the neuromuscular prices for changing direction is more than straight line running. This is arguably one of the reasons that hamstring, ACL and groin injuries have not really decreased at all at most levels of sport, or if one is decreasing another is raising. And while coaches may think they are being clever with a games only approach they are being anything but and are often missing the point of what i call “General Conditioning” which is also critical to expanding our athletic windows. The bigger the athletic window, the more likely players will increase skill levels and also a consistency with that skill execution. Especially if in a run of games in-season. Our approach generally is a mix of the 2 as suggested above.
By keeping players on the field and not injuring them with too heavy training too fast you are making them athletically better. Every session missed is a decrease in health and fitness of that player, every game missed is double the loss in our opinion. Contact injuries can be unavoidable but we can make players more robust so as to withstand them better. Non-Contact injuries are 100% avoidable and are what keep S&C Coaches awake at night. Any decent S&C Coach hangs their hat on keeping these to the absolute minimum and really always aiming for zero non-contact injuries.
So by playing SSG’s on large areas you reduce the amount of changes of direction and they will not be as acute (sharp and repetitive). What you can slowly introduce is return runs, simply by making Tempo runs over 50M returns instead of a straight 100M. Another really good and useful closed COD/Aerobic circuit that can help layer up change of directions and get the body used to it as more changes of directions in a closed environment as well as teaching good mechanics is the circuit below;
There is 4 deliberate changes of direction in each run. The distances are short so nobody will get anywhere near top speed. Teaching the planting of foot outside center of mass, turning of body to face the direction to go is critical here. But this is an environment where 1 or 2 coaches can really hone in on technique while also getting a nice Aerobic Circuit. Generally the circuit will take 8-12 seconds and the walk built in and the waiting line at either side means a natural 17-23 second rest. This is perfect really. I generally start off with 2-3 minutes consecutively for early season and depending on the level with 6 minutes generally the max I would spend at this for anyone.
This circuit mixed in with large area SSG’s will prepare the athletes for more intense SSG’s as the season progresses.
Understanding the SSG’s you are using and why you are using them is vital.
Is it transferring to match day?
Does it prepare your team generally or specifically?
Does it fit with your teams profile?
Does it match your tactical approach?
Are they game representative?
Are they developing or avoiding the skills you want to improve?
Are the game constraints going to help create a game where the skills and play you want to develop will be encouraged?
Are they just games for the sake of games?
For early season fitness with the ball, big spaces and few constraints. Just play the game.
4. Strength train on field training nights
This one has small physiological negatives (adaptations may be slightly interfered with) but not enough to ignore the Psycho-Social benefits, as in - more nights off.
As well as that you are assured of all players at least doing some strength training and at a base level that will keep players on the field, the 1st priority for any preparation.
If at all logistically possible do your in-season strength training before and after field sessions. With many clubs having those facilities for me this is a no brainer. Having an extra night or two free for a social life and to recover will automatically make the modern sports player fitter and fresher as so many are simply over burdened by nightly commitments and lose interest or burn out far quicker.
It would also be unwise to ignore the impact this can have on personal relationships. Spending time with loved ones or at home with family will balance life, keep players interested for longer and relieve some of the stresses that come with modern commitment to sport.
There is an expectancy in modern sport to look after yourself pretty much all the time. Gym work is definitely part of this. While big heavy strength sessions are not always what is needed, some training of strength is. While i promote a broader general athleticism development approach to stand alone gym sessions, when we add strength work to training sessions we automatically give ourselves more recovery time and thus freshness and a higher state of athleticism.
The system also feeds into the commonly used High-Low training model. Train hard and high on one day, train low the next. Low can be not at all or can be some easy short recovery work, which sometimes can be as simple as a 30 minute walk. Where as if you train on the field tues-thurs and then are expected or need to do 2 gym sessions Mon-wed you get 4 potentially high days in a row. That will not promote freshness.
While preseason and offseason I would consider separation of gym and field but when you are playing games freshness underpins performance. Days off are critical.
Everyone’s schedule is different, but coaches should use their head. The culture in each team will vary slightly. Maybe Monday evening gym sessions in the club are the norm and have created a good culture, well then don’t touch. Maybe add some pre and post strength work on thursday and have wed-fri free.
Depending on time of the year and equipment available, some strength work can take place within the sessions if necessary on the field. We deal with it further down the list, but for periods of time Med Ball work, bodyweight training and Plyometrics can virtually replace the gym anyway, or can be just before or just after.
There are many things to consider. There may be reasons where supervised group strength training on individual days is a better idea. Maybe with young or inexperienced groups the overall benefit may be to segregate it for blocks at a time. But really we are thinking about pretty well trained individuals and particularly when the games start. Freshness underpins everything.
I generally have players in “Strength Groups”. That will be based on assessments and a general feel for them over time and what their needs really are. Typically the groups would be titled something like
My ideal scenario is 10 mins before, 10-15 mins after
Here are some examples of what has worked for me in the past;
Before & After Gym Sample Gaelic Football Session
5 Mins: Personal Movement Exercises - Mobility/stability or identified neuromuscular primer exercises. This is individualized
5 Mins: Special Speed Exercises - Particular exercises related to the muscles in particular involved in acceleration and/or max velocity sprinting (*Note - we will have a series on these special speed exercises coming soon***)
5-10 Mins: Movement Game - Olympic Handball/Bib Tag, Aussie Rules Possession or similar
3 Mins: Sprint Mechanics - A+B Skips or similar (depends on level)
6 Mins: 30M Linear Sprints x3 w/90 secs rest - easy technical work for active rest
6 Mins: Plyo Circuit - Lower Leg Conditioning Circuit
20 Mins: Full Game
15 Mins: Competitive Skills Flow 3 blocks w/3 groups rotating through 5 mins each - 3 skills (example: 2v1 competitive kicking, tackling & shooting) emphasized come from feedback on game - what to work on presently!! There is a specific large conditioning element to this
10-15 Mins: Conditioned Game based on tactical philosophy of team, possibly also based on feedback of recent game or sessions full game
10-15 Mins: Prescribed Strength Circuit - Usually 3-4 compound exercises in the players normal 75-85% range
Time 1 Hr 30-40 mins - Longer than normally needed for 60 minute sports like Gaelic Football (Rugby and soccer may adjust as necessary) but the reward is a day off the following day, or very light <30 Min session/45 minute walk
Sample Gym Before only Soccer Session
5 Mins: Personal Movement Exercises - Mobility/stability or identified neuromuscular primer exercises. This is individualized
5 Mins: 1 Lower/1 Upper Body Contrast Circuit (alternate exercises through a 2-3 day cycle)
5 Mins: Special Speed Exercises
5-10 Mins: Movement Game - Olympic Handball/Bib Tag, Aussie Rules Possession or similar
3 Mins: Sprint Mechanics - A+B Skips or similar (depends on level)
6 Mins: 30M Linear Sprints x3 w/90 secs rest - easy technical work for active rest
6 Mins: Plyo Circuit - Lower Leg Conditioning Circuit
30 Mins: Full Game
8 Mins: Intensive Tempos Block
8 Mins: Set Plays work
8 Mins: Intensive Tempos Block
8 Mins: Set Plays work
10 Mins: Conditioned Games - emphasizing identified issues arising from session or recent game
Optional (player driven): 100M Tempos
Time : 1Hr40 - 2 Hr
Sample after training Gym Camogie Session
5 Mins: Strength-Stability Bodyweight Circuit - The bridge between the real modern sedentary world and training
3 Mins: Sprint Mechanics - A+B Skips or similar (depends on level)
6 Mins: 30M Linear Sprints x3 w/90 secs rest - easy technical work for active rest
6 Mins: Movement Game - Olympic Handball/Bib Tag, Aussie Rules Possession or similar
20 Mins: Competitive Skills Flow 3 blocks w/3 groups rotating through 5 mins each - 3 skills (example: 2v1 competitive ruck ball , tackling & shooting) emphasized come from feedback on game - what to work on presently!! There is a specific large conditioning element to this
20 Mins: 3 Block circuit of conditioned game, Agility running & Repeated runs all w/aerobic conditioning element. 3 groups cycle through 6 minutes each w/2 minute breaks
15 Mins: Full Game
10-15 mins: Prescribed 3-6 exercise circuit just done within allotted time
These are just samples of what we have used in recent past, every Coach has to cut his or her cloth based on teams ability and facilities available. There are times even when facilities are available and stand alone gym sessions are a better options. Sometimes we do have to go all in and leave other parts of our lives behind a little. But only for short blocks i would suggest.
3. Finish sessions Tempos.
Tempo runs can work really well as a non-intensive method of building our aerobic capacity. Using them at the end of field or court sessions might just be a safe and clever way to build work capacity and your aerobic system.
What are tempo’s?
Well in field sport Tempo running is defined as running performed at 65 – 75% percent of one’s maximum speed. What is important on how to perform tempo is you want the last rep of your runs to be the same speed as the first runs.(Charliefrancis.com). Running faster can actually have a detrimental effect on your recovery and development. Tempos really should be pretty enjoyable.
The simplest and most common (and method i suggest for a training finisher) is to run 70-100M and walk back. Generally i like 100 as its nice and tidy to measure and calculate.
Now a Max speed is needed, or a very good ball park. A timed 100M run would be good, but most Club Level athletes will fall in the 16-24 second range. If you look at this table made up by the very kind Simon Naimby (@sinainby ) of Underground Athletics, he has entered his sprint time for 100M and this table spits out a range for him making the 100M for tempos. Seen below are some other Charlie Francis examples and methods, but i would keep them for individual days or extra days and let athletes play around with them themselves and more particularly for Pre-Season when using the intensive methods. For finishers at training stick to the straight line 100 Tempo Run:100 Walk.
However for lower level athletes, power athletes, court athletes, large athletes who fatigue easily and are good over shorter distances maybe a 60M test would be better, and then run 60M Tempo’s. The reps would be higher but volume similar to everyone else.
So at the end of your normal session the players simply run 100M in about 65-75% and walk back. It really is that simple. The benefits are huge.
Trust is needed on a level for this, but you are going nowhere without it anyway. This may not be a year 1 thing to do or possibly in your first few months with a team. Trust has to be built both ways and a team may think you are bluffing by setting up tempos and walking away. So its not a magic wand either. However it is a great tool to use possibly early pre season and in-season to maintain conditioning, build work capacity and maintain body composition.
If athletes want to do some extra work and are that enthusiastic a good session would be starting with a mix of technical weakness work followed by a tempo session. In a standalone session athletes will be able to do more reps than at the end of a session. For some athletes this could be more important than a gym session and could maybe precede a short strength session as we generally go after the more important quality first. Tempos can be a great boost for a player returning from injury as well.
Its very important that if you are starting to struggle to keep the times even that you bow out. Your fatigue levels can vary wildly due to life and exercise stresses. These Tempos are a handy addition, but should enhance your athleticism, not derail it.
Suggested Guidelines (what a base level might be after 4 weeks of 2-3 sessions per week, depending on level):
Stand Alone Tempo Sessions Off-season
Gaelic Sports - 80-100M x30 runs (Track/Grass)
Basketball - 50-75M x50-60 runs (track/grass)
Field Hockey - 60-80M x45-65 runs (Turf/Track/Grass)
Rugby Forwards - 60-80M x30-40 runs (Track/Grass)
Rugby Backs - 100M x25-35 runs (Track/Grass)
Soccer - 100M x35-45 runs (Track/Grass)
Stand Alone Tempo Sessions Pre-season
Gaelic Sports - Extensive Circuits (Run 100- Walk 50) x3 as 1 set, walk 100 between sets X4-6 sets (Grass)
Basketball - Extensive Circuits (Run 112, 4 lengths of court- Walk 56) x3 as 1 set, walk 112 between sets X5-8 sets
Field Hockey - Extensive Circuits (Run 100- Walk 50) x3 as 1 set, walk 100 between sets X3-5 sets (Turf)
Rugby Forwards - Extensive Circuits (Run 50- Walk 25) x3 as 1 set, walk 50 between sets X8-12 sets (Grass)
Rugby Backs - Extensive Circuits (Run 100- Walk 50) x3 as 1 set, walk 50 between sets X4-6 sets (Grass)
Soccer - Extensive Circuits (Run 100- Walk 50) x3 as 1 set, walk 50 between sets X5-8 sets (Grass)
In-Season Post training Tempos
Gaelic Sports - 80-100M x5-12 runs (Grass)
Basketball - 56M x10-20 runs (court)
Field Hockey - 60-80M x5-12 runs (Turf)
Rugby Forwards - 60-80M x8-15 runs (Track/Grass)
Rugby Backs - 100M x8-15 runs (Track/Grass)
Soccer - 100M x10-20 runs (Track/Grass)
* Bike or Pool tempos may be suitable for some athletes who have a very high training age, are very big players or are coming back from injury and physio advice is to lower running volume. What we do have to get right here is are these central or peripheral (muscles) adaptations or stresses we are training, and when we change implements used (running to bike for example) we need to be careful of what we are training. Tempo running will not overly stress the Central Nervous System, so its important that whatever replacements you use do not either. 30 second pedals with 30 rest seem a good replacement here and you can keep the volume similar. 30 seconds @70% Max sprint on bike, with 30 seconds easy peddling. To find your max hopefully the stationary bike has a monitor. A 20 second all out sprint will help and hopefully it will record your fastest speed. Work 70% off that speed then for your tempos.
see charliefrancis.com for more
Note: If as we suggest elsewhere you do weight training with field training and you want to incorporate tempos in like above, do the weights before training and keep volume and amount of exercises really low.
Please email me if you want the template from Charlie Francis approach courtesy of Underground Athletics. email@example.com
Sprint every session, even if for only 15 meters x1 rep. It switches on the nervous system, build strength outside of the gym and reduces the possibility of injury. But do it early when not fatigued, ideally after a good warm up.
Because so much sprinting was done so poorly and in fatigued states near end of sessions it’s like it became a dirty word. What was happening there other than the endless reports of injuries were players were learning to sprint slower than their capabilities due to the fatiguing of the neuromuscular system.
Sprinting has many benefits way beyond simply running hard out at a marker. Sprinting build the muscles we use athletically. It’s almost impossible to develop these muscles in any other setting at maximum effort. Sprinting improves running economy. By improving economy you then use less energy to perform submaximal efforts (which is most efforts in field sport). You get fitter essentially.
Well designed repeat sprint sessions can enhance endurance better than traditional endurance training and clearly has a better transfer to field sports. This study showed sprint interval training improved Maximal aerobic Speed as well as speed in the 3KM Run. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5839711/
One of the keys to sprint performance is allowing sufficient rest from maximal sprints. Anything over 30M I would give at least 2 mins. While many coaches get frustrated with this length of time for sprints maybe a meeting half way is some active rest with easy technical training. But full recovery from sprints has a huge effect on speed, injury reduction and the volume you can complete at high speed and quality.
This is one study of many that show longer rests means the Output is higher per sprint. This really just makes sense, from my experience and what research suggests, 2 good sprints flat out over 3 minutes is better than 6 sprints over same time. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5913318/
But the more times we can sprint the more times we can fire up our type II muscle fibers that makes us strong and fast. So taking the time to set aside specific straight line sprint training has massive benefits.
Conversely we need to be careful of our put at certain times of the week and year we need to be careful of our max sprinting load. We do not want to drain our nervous system too much. Sprinting too much without enough rest can actually make your athletes slower. Be prepared to cut a speed session and take 5-8 minutes rest before doing anything else for a good recovery. Quality trumps everything with sprinting
However, even 1 sprint can switch on our nervous system enough to 1) prepare for a technical-tactical session or game but 2) help keep us injury robust and finally 3) maintain speed gains developed early in training process. This readiness or the process of can be called Potentiation. This is essentially where we excite a certain group of muscles (as described already the athletic muscles) and that they are ramped up to a higher ceiling for Post Potentiation activity. We would often do this in the gym where we do jump squats before a Back Squat where we are aiming for heavy lifts. The jumping at lighter loads excites the muscle we use in a similar movement at which we may be intending to excel or max out on.
One of the best ways to transfer work done in the gym over onto the pitch is to sprint.
Another really easy way for coaches to use this system is the 3 sprint build up. Sprints between 20 and 60M long for 3 reps
1st Rep @ 80%
2nd Rep @ 90%
3rd Rep @ Max
Significant rests must be part of this, but easy active rest and technical drills or play at low level can be the answer here.
Sprint every session
For Field Coaches everywhere - some practical tips to help your people get more athletic and enjoy their sports more, be more competitive and stay injury free!!!
1. Warm Ups
Use warm ups for Development of good movement, running technique and strength.
While I hear many people bemoan and ridicule excessive warm ups (and often they have a point) it is also true that a warm up can be used to develop areas of absolute importance that you may not be certain are addressed elsewhere.
I start virtually all warm ups with some form of a strength-Stability Circuit. I call it Global Movement Circuit, call it what you want, it’s a way of getting the people you are coaching from the stresses physically and mentally of life more ready to actually take part in training. A bridge you could say. Remember many will have been sat at desks or driving in traffic to get to training. They need to readjust. But by doing this you will have more attentive people, and their body more woken up. This means a higher quality session. It means less likelihood of injury. All these things without any conditioning will make someone more athletic.
An example of one I am using recently with a team
Global Movement Prep x1-2 sets
- Lunge Matrix x1 - Lunge In 5 directions
- Down Dog to Rotate x4 e/s
- Inchworms to Push Ups x4
- Nordics x4
- Reverse Nordics
I will generally change this up somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks depending on training age and profile of team.
Another part I feel is critical to Field Sport is Acceleration, Deceleration and running technique. Most field sport athletes do not get good technical track training when they are young (the ones that have stand out a mile). So a simple circuit of access/decels, A/B Marches and Skips is a staple in early season or if I am new with a team. We adjust and will add complexity as we go, but the changes I have seen over the years with teams in their running ability just from these 2 circuits or variations of is quite pronounced.
The next piece of this jigsaw is to hand ownership to the players themselves. After initially teaching they should be able to run this part themselves. We all know a team that feels they are invested in and own their training will buy-in and likely perform better.
Generally after this you can go into some sprints or more game based warm up activities. Very often we will throw in some agility game like bib tag or knee tag or anything really that gets them moving, raises temperature and also has a fun element. This is bringing everything to a pitch so they are ready for the main parts of the session.
Some coaches like to create a warm up, leave the players run it, but then insist it remains the same for the entire year and every session. I certainly disagree with this approach. I don’t think you have to keep changing just for the sake of change but that it evolves while maintaining all our fundamentals and non-negotiables. Staleness may be an issue but also can a lack of adaptation.
Small adjustments along the way (that do not mean a huge re-learning process) can make a nice change up and develop a broader range of movement skills.
Helping an athlete to move better means they will expend less energy within games. Less wasted energy means automatically a team will be fitter as a whole. Again without any specific conditioning.
Recently I have been putting a lot of time into working on assessments that really give us feedback on where an athlete is and where they are going as relevant to field play as possible.
Multi Directional sports like Hurling/Camogie and Gaelic Football are games where explosive bursts are followed by slower periods of movement and recovery. One of the key components to field performance is your ability to recover from those explosive movements like accelerations, tackles, shoulders etc. this is largely underpinned by our aerobic system. Faster we recover the more explosive bursts we can make is the theory.
I have adapted this test and the training somewhat from the work of Joel Jameison and his Explosive Repeat method.
I am using the Med Ball Shot Toss as the exercise to measure. This has a horizontal hip drive and is a full body ballistic throw Essentially you need a base line.
So you will have 2 scores now, single max throw and your ability to repeat it. The ability to repeat it we can call your Explosive Repeat Capacity.
For training then I use a 12:48 second split. That’s our work:rest ratio. We know that most “all outs” have an 5-12 second window. I have gone high because this is not quite a continuous repetitive movement, it has a throw and a sprint and changes of direction.
o enhance our aerobic system and our ability to recovery quickly we use active rest. Anything really that’s not too intense but will keep HR above 120. Skipping, running technique drills, mobility work and maybe some easy push ups and BW Squats or lunges work well. But not too many. I find skipping the best. Skipping is an immediate reporting system. Skipping has a skill element and very much a timing element. Those factors alone make it neuromuscular. If your easy skipping is going to pot then there is a good chance you are reaching fatigue and the quality of everything drops. I use skipping as a regulator a lot with active rest. As sure night follows day when I miss a few skips or trip up in some way I will struggle shortly with my explosiveness.
You could do the training in blocks. Maybe 5 reps, rest 2 mins and repeat for a number of sets. That may be very suitable to combat sports for instance. Or you can just build you ballistic power endurance by repeating it till you lose 3 lives on your throws (as in not reach the buffer zone). My gut tells me this may be the way for a middle 8 player in Gaelic Games to train and probably all Basketball players. There may be an argument for a full back/full forward line player in Gaelic Games doing heavier ballistic exercises and straight line accelerations alone as the science is telling us this is mostly what they do on the field. Or maybe a mix as very often, particularly in football, those inside players do a lot more than that these days as well. It really depends on the team you are working with and the tactical approach of management.
Other versions of this test is using repeated broad jumps in the same measuring system. Start with one fresh repeated bounds tined for 8 seconds, that’s your mark, active rest for a minute and repeat. Keep going until you cannot make your first distance. I would suggest (having done it quite a lot) that there is even more metabolic demand and fatigue from this approach. So this may not be as good in a team setting on the field unless the field coach is prepared to give 5-10 minutes total recover afterwards. Not to mention the fact players will finish at different times. However if well organized then this can work. The other benefit to the broad Jump approach is you do not need any equipment other than markers.
In the video you will also see I did some vertical explosive training. This was on the same day after about 10 mins of mixed active/passive rest. Not totally sure about the transfer of this yet.
Other methods that may suit some sports or an individuals weaknesses are Sled Sprints, Sled Pulls or Prowler Pushes.
Hopefully this will get coaches and athletes thinking more about what exactly we are measuring and training and is it really telling us what we need to know and transferring to the pitch