Athletic Performance Training – Food for Thought: Things to Consider When Looking At Pursuing Secondary Performance Training for Your Athletes

You coach a team and feel your athletes could use the benefits of some sort of performance training. What are some basic things you need to consider? In deciding on whether or not to pursue performance training for your team there are several factors and thought lines that you might do well to ponder:

The first, most obvious thing to consider is why? Why are you looking for performance training for your team?

As a coach, you are of course always looking for ways to help your team improve results – and indeed, on-field results are your bottom line. In this day and age you are bombarded with messages of “bigger, faster, stronger” etc. and the panacea seems to have taken the form of performance training, (otherwise known as strength and conditioning).

Be aware however, that performance training is secondary training. Primary training is the learning, practicing and mastering of the skills that are required for the sport you coach and are considered primary because they are exactly that – PRIMARY! They are the most important element of sports ability and should comprise the bulk of your athletes’ training regimens. Secondary training is the supportive training that helps athletes to better be able to execute the primary training.

Primary Training = Skills training
Secondary Training = Skills support training

Still, you are inundated with stimuli indicating that performance training, or secondary training, will help your athletes to compete…and indeed it will! However, a conscientious coach enters into the realm of performance training with their eyes wide open and knowing why you want as a coach to go that route.

Ask yourself the following question:
I am looking at secondary performance training for my athletes because I want them to be___________, in order to perform better in the sport of ___________.
(Your sport)

Once you truly establish the “why” you want secondary performance training you need to figure out what that is. To do this you should execute a true analysis of the requirements of your sport and the particular requirements your particular system of coaching necessitates. Decide specifically what your goals are for performance training. Ask yourself:

What are the skills required of my sport, specifically in regards to the way I want them performed, position-by-position.
What are the real (not presumed) supporting fitness requirements of those skills? (By “real” I mean you should determine whether the requirements that you presume to be, actually are! For example, your players may need a certain kind of strength, expressed in a certain kind of way rather than maybe just being strong).
What are the movement patters requirements of your sport? In simple terms, try to think about how your sport looks/feels and think about whether the performance training you’re after looks/feels like how your sport looks/feels.

What do I mean by wanting my players to be more fit and will their efforts to become more fit actually help their real in game-performance? Remember, you want your players to perform better in games, not just “to get more fit”.

You may find that after you think about the whats of your sport your ideas of the why may just change.

Athletic Therapy Mesh-up:
Now that you’ve thought about why you want secondary performance training for your teams and what that training should aim to accomplish, you would do well to consider whether the training options available to you mesh-up with your supporting structures, especially if you have access to the Athletic Therapy side of things; many youth and High School programs now have that option.

Hopefully your Athletic Therapy provider has a strong commitment to pursuing the paradigm of modern, forward thinking, movement assisting rehab protocol. This protocol is grounded in certain premises that work best if they are as successfully as possible meshed-up with the training that you wish your athletes to undertake.

A trained Athletic Therapist likely has a definite notion of what the qualities of useful, secondary performance training are and the potential success of a training program should be discussed with him/her to give you a basic understanding of whether the training your are pursuing is in-line with their beliefs or stand apart from them.

You will find in that speaking with the therapist you will be able to gauge, from the sport-science end of things, whether the secondary training you are thinking about doing truly has the potential to benefit your athletes’ performances or whether the training you’re looking at doing is perhaps less-than optimum.

Science of Sport Performance Training – use your brain…ASK!
In continuing down this path of considering secondary performance training you should start to now take a real hard look at what that training should look like, should feel like…what should that training actually be? To help you figure that out a couple simple rules of thumb from the Science of Sport Performance jump out:

“The purpose of sports training is to achieve the highest possible sports result for a given individual. Training is efficient if the highest sports result is achieved with the least expenditure of time and energy.” (Thomas Kurtz a legendary former East-bloc performance scientist and coach).

Basically Kurtz is saying that performance training is planned, controlled and well thought out. It requires hours of thought, planning, designing, researching, and comparing. There is a systematic, scientific, building and layering to performance training. It isn’t just getting the athlete to work hard and sweat buckets. Boot camps and obstacle courses may require a lot of effort but they may not actually assist in-game performance….the point being here: ASK!

Ask yourself or the person or organization that you are inquiring after in regards to secondary performance training to explain everything to you! This may not be your area of expertise but you are responsible for your athletes and you are trying to get your athletes to perform better. Your first warning bell should come if the person or organization doing the training doesn’t first come to you and sit down with you to discuss your specific performance desires as a coach. You shouldn’t have to ask, they should approach you. Understand that you should work with your performance person, don’t just throw it out there and assume they can run with it – that’s not fair to the athlete and it’s not fair to the performance person.

Ask them to show you their thinking from Day One to Day Performance. Get a feel for whether what is being offered seems to be structured, layered, organic. Use common sense! If something is being offered as the “latest thing”, “cutting edge” or as “being done at this training facility…”, ask that that methodology be explained. Take that explanation with you and ask somebody else.

The key is to determine whether you feel there is a deep textured performance training plan that you feel comfortable with. Cool balls, ladders and chords may look great, can be great, but if they aren’t used with a long-view purpose they may not be all that useful. Ask why those neat toys are useful to performance and then ask yourself whether those neat toys are being used in a way that look/feel like the sport your athletes are training for.

One of the best questions to ask your self as a coach is: “Is this different?” That is to say, is the program your star forward on your ice-hockey team, the same as the one the fly-half on the rugby team is doing and is that program the same as the one the soccer team’s left defender is doing? If they are not different, then your athlete perhaps is not being trained to perform to his/her best ability in the sport that you have sent them to improve in.

As a coach in deciding on whether or not to pursue performance training for your team, especially if you plan to spend budget money towards that end (or recommend your athletes spend money towards that end), consider why you want secondary performance training, what that secondary performance training should aim to accomplish, whether that training adheres to solid sport-science based principles as supported by your athletic therapist, whether the training looks/feels like your sport; whether the training is specific to your sport or general to all sports; and whether the training truly makes sense to you. Above all ASK, don’t assume.