I love working with smart athletes, especially the ones who want to know why they do specific exercises at a given moment. Therefore, I hardly ever hear complaints from the athletes that practices are boring or remind them of passionless lectures. Nevertheless, I have found out through my work that if you want to effectively enhance an athletes performance you do not have too much time to make an amusement park out of your practices. In order to master the most effective exercises you need to use them often, yet ‘often’ is perhaps the biggest contributor to boredom. That means that whatever training tool or piece of equipment is in use, it can never be primarly used for fun or entertainment. If we consider all the exercises as skills, we need to improve them step by step up to perfection. Progression should be well structured and monitored while exercise selection follows the athletes’ overall health and performance needs and goals. Only then is a training program heading into a direction of being effective.
There is also a big difference between working with a team and working privately. The psychology of a group is much different and the loss of focus of one player can easily influence his/her surrounding. Therefore, the coach needs to adjust his/her behaviour according to the training environment.
EFFECTIVENESS REQUIRES ROUTINES
I’d say that at least 80% of professional athletes do not like doing stretching routines on a daily basis. By stretching routine I mean 15-30 minutes of work on both weak and strong sides of their joints’ range of motion (ROM). It does not bring a feeling of joy and pleasure so it contributes to the aforementioned phenomenon. During the pre-season, building up a good energy capacity demands lots of running. It does not matter if it’s a 20 minute interval run or 45 minute jogg, athletes do not find it very interesting and enjoyable. When it comes to strength practices, in many sports throughout the season athletes do not have much time to workout. In order to get the biggest bang for buck, you need to stick to the most effective strength programs and do them often. If you plan to change what you do every week just to keep your athletes happy and motivated, you will most likely lose some level of effectiveness in your practices. Finally, injury prevention / reduction is an everday commitment. Acute injuries can happen during the games or practices so it means that the athletes should prepare themselves accordingly. Together with developing and maintaining flexibility and ROM, work on stability (foot, knee, core and shoulder complex) demands athletes concentration at an optimal level in order to improve movement skills (such as landing, cutting, pivoting).
Even though routines can seem boring and thus decrease motivation, all of them are ‘a must’ in the world of professional sports. In the following text I will discuss some of the ways of decreasing the boredom phenomenon.
MINIMIZING BOREDOM AND BUILDING UP EFFECTIVENESS
If you have watched (if not, I strongly suggest you do) one of the most famous TED talks made by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire action, you will get an answer as to why people want and need to know why they do (or buy) something. In my work, I have realised that by talking about the WHY you can build strong, siencere and trusting relationships. I also believe that athletes who think and believe in what they do brings better training effects. Here is an example of how I ‘talk WHY’; ROM and soft tissue flexibility is not only needed in sports to avoid injuries but also to produce power. Explosiveness is a quality which is needed in various different sports and thus success directly depends on power output. If we take into account the basic laws of physics, more ROM in your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders means more power to your movement.
Talk about injury prevention / reduction
Injury prevention is always a hot topic and it is based on the aforementioned WHY principle. Many scientist claim that joint’s ROM and muscle’s flexibility could be the factors for injury reduction or occurence. Direct or indirect factor, truth is that poor ROM can cause overstress for acute or chronic type of injury. Here are two examples you can share with your athletes:
In basketball, poor ankle dorsiflexion while landing can lead to knee instability in the frontal plane (shaky knees known as valgus knees) that can end up as a torn meniscus or different ligaments in the joint.
In tennis, a lack of shoulder flexion (raising arm up) can cause tightness along the arm muscles where usually the weakest link, such as elbow can be overused and painful.
Use different (but appropriate training methods)
I am the type of coach who likes the old-fashioned, real-deal exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pull ups and push ups, depth jumps, olympic lifts and med ball throws. When sticking to certain exercises, I have realised that an athletes focus from practice to practice can be maintained by using different training methods which is of course, appropirate for the given moment. In practice it means that sometimes you use standard sets like 5×5 repetitions. The other time you can go to the superset option. Furthermore, you can incorporate strength exercises in the very popular TABATA protocol. The most important thing is that the method serves the training goal.
The athletes’ job description is to train and compete in order to win competitions. They like to break records, no matter what kind. In the strength and conditioning world, breaking records means not just lifiting more weights, but also being able to lift more repetitions or to run a set distance in less time. Use practices to challenge your athletes and keep them motivated to work harder. Make your athletes write down their records in training diaries.
Relate work to their sport
Finally, try to relate the aim of exercises to the game benefits. As I have already mentioned, the athletes like to know WHY they do something. The more you relate it to the sport environment, the more efficent their workouts will become.
Once athletes learn the principles of the modern sport training such as vital daily routines, they can think of having successful, long and injury-free careers.