Tips for Training the Year Round Athlete
There has been a lot of focus over the last few years in the coaching community about sport specialization. The research behind sport specialization is pretty clearly negative and has shown increased psychological stress, overuse injuries, and burnout (Jayanthi et al., 2013). Despite the negative research, it is unrealistic for specializing to go away. Many factors, including college recruiting, will keep specializing alive. I do think as the research continues to be talked about, and multi-sport athletes are being advocated by major college coaches, we will see an uptick in multi-sport athletes.
We have noticed the similarities between multi-sport athletes and year-round athletes when it comes to their specialized training schedule. Both types of athletes have limited or no off-season, endure a large amount of competitive stress and have limited time to consistently strength train throughout the year. This article is intended to talk about how we as coaches can maximize the limited time we get to spend with our athletes and keep them healthy and progressing year after year whether they specialize or play multiple sports.
This is probably the hardest thing for me to implement. Learning from textbooks and college coaches there is always a huge emphasis on building a yearly calendar and following the perfect periodized program. Doing that with a college athlete who has a clearly defined sports season, dead period, and off-season is much more realistic than it is with a high school athlete that plays 4 sports a year or is playing 1 sport 9 - 10 months out of the year. Maybe your athlete gets sick, hurt, or decides to go to an extra college camp or two. Those changes will require us as coaches to be fluid with our programming to give our athletes the best chance at success. So, how do we keep making progress when we can’t follow our perfectly periodized linear plan?
First, and probably the most important aspect of flexible programming is communicating well with your athletes. It is important to understand their schedule, track recovery/performance, and rely on them to tell you how they feel. Being able to connect with the athlete and earn their trust will help the coach know when to ramp or back down which will be critical for long term progression. Once we receive the information it is important for us as coaches to put our egos aside and make the necessary adjustments based on what is best for the athletes. If they have a big tournament/game coming up or are just not recovering well maybe our planned deload week comes a week or two early. This may slow progress initially, but will set the athlete up for more long term success, which should be the ultimate goal. On the opposite end of the athlete is rested and recovered feel free to let them push themselves even if it doesn’t call for it in the program.
A few key things to consider when implementing flexible programming is that it is still important to have an overall roadmap of where we are trying to get. We do this by creating a macrocycle that is based around each athlete's unique schedule and training goals, but we understand the details and microcycles within that macrocycle will change and evolve. By doing this we are able to keep our athletes peaked for the important competitions while still achieving the long term goal and progression.
Empower Your Athletes
Just because the athletes aren’t in the weight room doesn’t mean they can’t get better. The teaching and conversation should not start and end in the weight room. Empowering your athletes with good habits and knowledge outside of the weight room can be powerful tools to help them recover and maximize what you can do when they are in the weight room.
Make sure your athletes understand the importance of sleep, nutrition, and hydration. These are all key things we should be talking to our athletes about regularly to improve their performance. Don’t assume they understand what to eat and when to eat. Coach them through those things. Taking some extra time and providing them with 2 or 3 active recovery routines they can do at home or in the hotel when they are at a tournament can make a huge difference in the long term development as well.
An example of one thing we do at HansenAthletics is assigning our clients weekly or monthly goals on things they can do outside of the weight room. If they complete the goal we will reward them in some form. Doing these things is by no means reinventing the wheel, but this is a low hanging fruit that will make a huge difference in the long term.
Get After It In Season
Again, this may not be the textbook answer, but if we are always trying to “maintain” during the season with high school athletes you will end up maintaining all year. Which is really just a nice way of saying you are getting weaker. One thing we have found is the most consistent time of year is during the athlete’s traditional season. Games are usually played on a regular weekly basis and the long 6,7,8 game weekend tournaments are limited or non-existent. The athletes are focused on one sport, wherein the summer, they may be playing and competing in multiple sports. We use this consistency to our advantage and use more structured programming in our micro cycles during these times.
As always we will monitor the overall training volume, with the goal being to do just enough to make the desired gains, and no more. Because the training volume is down we will regularly push the intensity in season. This allows the gains to continue and keep the athletes recovered for competition. Another thing we monitor is the importance of the competition. Not all games are created equal. Some are more important than others. This is where we can use our flexible programming from before to make sure we are recovered and peaked for the most important competitions, but aren’t reducing training and compromising gains for that 20th summer ball game.
At the end of the day, the goal is to help our athletes develop over the long term and stay healthy. These tips will allow you to do that whether you are working with a year-round specializer or a multi-sport athlete.
Jayanthi, N., Pinkham, C., Dugas, L., Patrick, B., & Labella, C. (2013, May). Sports specialization in young athletes: evidence-based recommendations. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658407/