Dear Modern Aged Sports Coaches,
Firstly, thank you for giving up your time to coach the future/the rising/or the has been athletes that are in every city and town spread across Australia. The time you give to your sport, I believe, is invaluable as clubs of all codes look for coaches and volunteers to help run their clubs. The knowledge you pass onto players and parents can be taken as gospel sometimes and young children will remember what you tell them and possibly hold onto it for their whole sporting careers. This is where I start to have concerns.
Coaches are asked or they nominate because they have knowledge (hopefully) about the chosen sport. And from this they can help to develop the athletes skills for this chosen sport. But what about the coaches knowledge of how to develop players speed, COD and anerobic/aerobic fitness? From what I have been apart of, or still hear from junior athletes, is that current day coaches are still stuck in the old ways of thinking. Now this is no fault of the coach who is possibly just doing what they learnt and thought it was a good way to get “fit”. What I’m talking about is the “do 10 laps of the field/court” (all in the same direction I may add) or the if you want to improve your fitness you must do your own fitness. What this leads to is that athletes end up going for long slow runs (LSR’s), but does this actually do anything for their sport. The answer is no, not really. In team sports when are you usually just jogging at a slow pace? The answer is very infrequently.
Its time to think about what team sport is made up of and what is the most important physical aspects of team sports. Think back to coaching or playing, how many times have you thought, wow how easy is it to get to the ball when I’m jogging! It was so easy to beat my defender with my incredible ability to job for long periods! The answer is never. If we had two athletes that were equal ability skill wise with the same IQ for the game, the athlete that has better acceleration and speed is going to be the better player. WHY? Because speed kills! If you can get to the ball quicker, or blow straight past your defender, or get in better position to make a defensive play its all going to help you become better at your sport.
So what does any of this have to do with the way your training your teams? I hear you saying “I don’t know enough about this to be able to help my athletes and just telling them to do laps is easier”. Well, what if I said you are actually doing the reverse on these athletes and actually making them slow and possibly leading them to injury.
You may have heard the word overuse injury thrown around in your local club team or by being a fan of a professional sporting team or have just heard about it. An overuse injury is repeated trauma to a muscle or joint, usually caused through technique error or too much physical activity completed to quickly. An error in technique may be the running where your knee may collapse inward on every step. Overtime this may cause a wide array of problems, most commonly tendonitis at either the knee or glute. Think about if they are doing this over and over again on their long slow runs, how many steps are they doing during that run. Repeating this trauma over and over again.
The second problem is that it is slow. The human body is incredible and will start to adapt to a repeated stimulus. What this can mean is that we can train the body to be slow and we can train the body to be faster. Stick with me while I talk some science here. We have 3 types of muscle fibres in the body slow twitch (type 1), fast twitch (type 2). Now these two types of fibres will be predetermined through your genes as to whether you have more fast twitch or if you have more slow twitch. Obviously, athletes with the fast twitch fibres will be fast and move quicker, athletes with more slow twitch fibres are more endurance athletes. There is no scientific research that proves you can covert this fibres to the other type, but like I said there are three types and the last type is known as moderate fast twitch (type 2a). Now these can be moved to be more fast twitch than slow and can be more slow twitch than fast. Therefore, theses are the muscle fibres I am talking about. If you train to be slow you will be slow because these fibres will turn to slow twitch fibres and make you more of an endurance athlete. But if you train quick you will be quick! Because the muscle fibres will develop to be more fast twitch like.
So what does this all boil down and why am I writing this to sporting coaches? As a sports scientist/strength and conditioning coach I may only see an athlete once a week, where their goals might be to improve strength, speed and power. This same athlete might be also training 3-4x a week and completing long slow runs and like I just mentioned this is going to make the athlete adjust to being slower. Over a 20 week season a player will have had 60 session practicing to be slow and 20 sessions practicing to be quick. The body is going to adjust to the greater training stimulus. Stop doing long slow runs.
So I hear you, what can you do to improve your athletes aerobic and anaerobic fitness? It is possible to do it in your training sessions and the best bit about it is you can make it specific for your sport and improve skills at the same time. So what can you do? The number one thing you can do is small sided games. I’ll use an example for football (soccer). You will need to split the field into smaller rectangles, depending on the size of the game will depend on the size of the field. You can start with 1on1, 2on2 and could go all the way to 5v5. You can also make the games with odd sized teams such as 3v2. By keeping the games high paced and a certain goal to score you will find that this will improve aerobic fitness, the players will be completing more sprint work and they will also be improving their skills as well. The way you should look at it is it’s a win, win, win situation.
Accredited Sports Scientist Level 1