The Basics vs Marginal Gains
- “There are a lot of technologies and methodologies out there that are claiming to be the next best thing.” As coaches, sport scientists, and practitioners of sport, we need to be able to balance our own evolution without falling prey to the next “flavor of the month”.
The 4 Building Blocks of Performance
- Planning/Periodization — a process that coaches put in place to answer relevant programming questions : what do we do? when do we do it? how frequently do we do it? how long do we do it for? etc.
- Prevention — methods and modalities aimed at reducing injuries and performance detriments. These include: testing, monitoring, player readiness, and preparation exercises (warm up exercises aimed at targeting muscles that are most prone to injury in football)
- Conditioning/Fitness — optimizing the physical characteristics of the players and team through targeting specific energy systems relevant to positional demands, team tactical behavior, and individual training history. This also includes the appropriate integration of strength/power training, rehab, return to play, etc. “There are many different models, but they all have the same objective — to develop strength, speed, power, and endurance through playing football.”
- Regeneration/Reintegration — modalities and specific areas aimed at supporting the physical work described above. Included here is strategies around nutrition and hydration as well as mechanisms aimed at improving recovery such as massage, hydrotherapy, cryotherapy, compression socks, and a variety of other tools. Tied in to this principle performance is also strategies around the re-integration of players returning from injury back into the team environment and their individual return to performance strategies.
- “First of all, my philosophy is not the be all and end all of sports performance. I always say that as long as your players are healthy and maintaining a high level of performance throughout the whole season, then you are doing something right!”
- With that said, here is a general idea of Damian’s periodization schema with the Seattle Sounders.
The Weekly Microcycle:
Tuesday (Game Day +3/Game Day-4)
- During the 1st day back after the recovery block, Damian will employ medium sided games (5v5, 6v6, or 7v7) that are designed to avoid maximum explosive actions.
- To avoid maximum explosive actions, Damian will manipulate the pitch size so that high intensity sprints are not afforded to the players (small pitch)
- In addition, they will avoid sprinting exercises or crossing and shooting exercises and use possession oriented games that focus more on decision making and technical execution, rather than creating chances and communicating with teammates to score goals.
- The focus of these exercises are to communicate with your teammates to keep possession. These can still be directional, but most likely without goals to avoid explosive actions like shooting, which 3 days after the match are avoided for precaution.
- The first day back following a recovery block is where a lot of inexperienced coaches make mistakes. Assuming the players are well rested, they plan an overload session. However, fatigue can linger longer than 24–48 hours after a game affecting their readiness on the Game Day +3
- Because of this, Damian and his team employ a few test of range of motion to ensure that the players anthropometrics are within normal ranges
These tests include:
- Hamstring Flexibility
- Hip Internal Rotation
- Knee to Wall Calf Range of Motion
- Ankle Dorsiflexion Values
If these test are within the normal ranges based on each individual player, then this goes a long way in reducing the chance of injury and is a good sign that adequate recovery has taken place.
- In addition, the benefit of starting the week with a “lighter session” is to give the staff 24 hours to assess the status of each individual player and make decisions as to the optimal training load to be applied to each player and the team as a whole on the Wednesday.
Wednesday (Game Day +4/Game Day-3)
- This day includes football sprinting exercises in order to expose the players to high intensity sprinting to make them more robust for those actions in the match.
- Below is an example of “football sprints” which are conducted by a coach standing a few yards behind the players, with their eyes facing forwards, who then plays a “50/50″ ball at varying distances in front of the players. The players must react to the sight of the ball and race to the ball. The first person to the ball gets an opportunity to shoot 1v1 against the goalkeeper.
- Also included on this day will be either a SSG, MSG, or LSG which Damian cycles throughout the season using a “6-week cycle” shown below.
- We can explain the 6 week mesocycle using Week 1 and Week 2 as an example. In Week 1 and Week 2 of the season, Damian will organize a LSG on the Wednesday of the Microcycle.
- However, it is also important to prepare the players for the stimulus they will receive in Week 3 & 4 so that there isn’t excessive soreness (think about how sore you get when you do a new exercise in the gym — it’s because your body hasn’t been exposed to it)
- Therefore, during Week 1 and Week 2, Damian will organize a MSG on the Tuesday, or Thursday, but he will tailor the load so that it isn’t a conditioning session. For example, maybe they only play 1–3 rounds of 3–5 minutes of 6v6, which is enough to prepare them for the more intensive 6v6 in Week 3 & 4, but not enough to produce excessive fatigue & soreness.
- One of the key things that Damian and his team use their data collection to monitor is high intensity distance covered (HID) and very high intensity distance covered (VHID).
- A key to injury reduction that they value is the avoidance of large spikes in high intensity distance, which can be tracked using GPS.
- However, even if your team lacks technology like GPS, Damian believes that a sound periodization strategy intuitively avoids spikes in high intensity distance. The “6 Week Mesocycle” illustrated above was highly influenced by the work of Dutch Coach Raymond Verheijen.
- “I still use his [Verheijen’s] LSG, MSG, and SSG model. I have tweaked it throughout the years of working with players in different countries and levels, but I still use it.”
High Intensity Distance Example
- Let’s say that your most explosive player covers 600 meters of Very High Intensity Distance in a given week, including the game.
- If he drops to 250 one week (>50%) then that is a red flag.
- “Any increase or drop of 50% can cause the spike we are trying to avoid. We try to make sure there isn’t an increase or decrease of more than 50%.”
- The best tool to train a variable like VHID is “football sprints” as illustrated earlier.
- Damian is a big proponent of “pool work” or “bike work” to aid recovery. “When you are working hard — anything that takes load off of the joints is a priority for me.”
The Pool has a variety of benefits including:
- Reduces cortisol
- Promotes sleep
- Increases circulation (hydrostatic pressure)
- Social benefit (group organizes a game, for example)