Why Load Management can Make or Break your Preseason

A graph displaying a reduction in the number of games missed by players who completed more pre season training sessions in football.

Why Load Management can Make or Break your Preseason

WHY LOAD MANAGEMENT CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR PRESEASON

The Dreaded Offseason Break

It is every coaches nightmare, players finish up for the year, they have their Mad Monday or they have a team weekend away, and then they are on their own for 2 or 3 months.

They may continue to train, they may do nothing, you will never really know. Until they eventually turn up to preseason in great shape, or they may have slightly changed shape and look a little rounder in the midregion.

What you decide to do from here is completely your choice but it is a very tough position to be in as a coach. Particularly if you have players at both ends of the spectrum.

If only your team continued to train as hard as they did during the season in their time off. Most community based clubs unfortunately don’t have the resources to have a physiotherapist to plan and implement an offseason training program for players. As such it falls to the coach, that’s why we are here to help you plan your players offseason, so that your preseason is a success.

Fit players = full uninterrupted preseason
Uninterrupted preseason = fit cohesive team
Fit cohesive team = team that wins game
THEREFORE
Fit players at the start of preseason = winning games

“Every 10 additional sessions completed during pre-season, reduced the risk of in-season injury by 17%”

– Windt, Gabbett, Ferriss & Khan 2016

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The preseason period is absolutely critical for team success. It allows players to:

– Understand how each teammate plays the game 

– Develop team chemistry

– Improve fitness and physical attributes such as speed and strength

– Develop a playing style

If a team fails to develop this in the preseason it doesn’t necessarily mean the season won’t be a success, it just means the chances of it are much lower.

“current findings suggest that six weeks of high-intensity functional training were not able to increase performance in subjects with high training-volume and frequency or a moderate  training volume and frequency. Therefore, coaches must opt for better training strategies in order to achieve superior results in training and subsequent competitions.”

– Teixeira et al. 2020

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How much of a rest period do I give my players?

Rest and recuperation from both a physical and mental standpoint is incredibly important for athletes. Particularly in a Covid-19 affected year where a lot of sporting leagues have run longer than usual, players may not get the normal downtime that they are accustomed to. 

From my personal experience in Football Brisbane, many leagues are only just finalising their last few rounds, and teams are hosting trials in early December. This will essentially allow players 2-3 weeks of downtime before they swing into another season. 

In my experience it is important to take stock of the season just been, how physically tough was the season, how many injuries did the team experience (particularly in the last few rounds), did your team play finals or extra games such as tournaments or cups. Playing extra games and having a mentally and physically tired team would indicate that a greater period of downtime may be beneficial. 

Rest vs Active Rest

It’s important to remember that rest doesn’t mean sit on the couch and do nothing. Maintaining activity and light fitness activities to keep the body and mind active are important. Transitioning to exercise such as yoga, pilates, walking, cycling, or swimming can keep the body moving with low impact on the body.

Rest = sitting down and doing nothing, this means the athletes load capacity drops and upon returning to training will take longer for the athlete to build their load tolerance back up.

Active rest = maintaining light activity but not overloading and pushing the body’s limits as is typically done during the season.

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What should an off-season training program include?

This is an absolutely loaded topic and comes down to a lot of different questions that we asked you to think about in the last post, these included:

– What is my teams playing style?

– What are the demands of the team and different players/positions?

– How many times and how far do players have to sprint for?

– What other factors are present such as tackles or collisions?

Answering these questions will help you develop what you need to do in training. An off-season program should address most of the same factors but you may apportion different weighting to different areas. You may want your athletes to develop a greater aerobic base over the offseason so you would allocate more time to that than you would to sprint training. Or there may have been a significant number of soft tissue injuries such as hamstring, groin, or quadriceps strains, in which case you may place a greater emphasis on a strengthening program.

Understanding the underlying goal of an offseason program is crucial, without an aim you are simply giving your athletes a program that they are unlikely to follow. An educated athlete is an empowered athlete.

How much work do I make them do in the offseason?

The amount of work you give your players should be dependent upon what you are planning for your pre-season. Once you have developed your initial pre-season plans you are able to work backwards and you can determine what your players need to be ready to perform.

If you are planning a heavy pre-season of sprint training you may have 2 sessions of sprint training per week in your off-season program.

I believe that there is an optimal balance between continuing to push your players and allowing them to mentally refresh after a long season. This balance lies somewhere around 3 to 4 structures sessions per week while encouraging your athletes to continue their own fitness (gym, cycling etc.) or trail new activities (yoga, pilates, or swimming).

 “coaches should examine the differences (training load) among their squad individually, as they may vary depending upon style of play and player personnel

– Heishman et al. 2020

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