Exercise Progression: Bend But Don’t Break

Every off season we, as coaches and trainers, put together creative plans that we hope will peak our players performance throughout the next season.  We strategically weave together elaborate periodizations of meso and micro cycles, practice plans, progressions, etc until we feel we have the perfect plan.  We piece together the perfect mixture of conditioning and strength training, technical and tactical, skill and knowledge.  We plan each practice to successfully build upon the one before and peak our players at just the right time.  It’s perfect…

Then it rains out our first practice.  Two players go on vacation.  One of our tournaments gets rescheduled.  And 3 out of our 4 defenders get the flu.  Murphy’s Law – Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!

It’s tough to create a training program.  If you create to rigid a plan you will not be able to avoid the unexpected pitfalls that lie just around the corner.  But, if your plan is too loose, you will miss your scheduled peaks, limit the potential of your team and leave everything to chance.  So what are we to do? I suggest a “bend but don’t break” philosophy.

As a coach you need to outline your plan, your progression, your philosophy and your expectations.  You need to set a structure or curriculum that is unshakable, built through experience and deeply rooted in research and personal practice. Then you have to leave room to manipulate this plan without compromising the direction or the end result.  Bend but don’t break.

We do this by first setting up a plan or a snapshot of the season from high above.  This is just a basic timeline, outlining major holidays, tournaments, peaking periods and other major events that may take a toll the players.  We then will look at the group of players we have (age, gender, level, needs, etc) and we will set up a very loose plan.  In writing this plan we will refer directly from our curriculum and determine what the players (at this age) need to develop, then check this with what they already have mastered.

For instance, we have some teams that are very quick naturally, but lack strength.  Some that are naturally strong players, but lack some of the technical experience in the weight room to perform some of the advanced lifts (cleans, plyometric jumps) efficiently.  And finally we might have some groups that are fast and technically advanced lifters, but lack the endurance to repeatedly perform at a high level (burn out by the end of tournaments, finals, etc).  All of this is taken into consideration.

Once we have the plan we can start to focus on specifics or generalities within the seasonal plan.  For instance if the team is not technically efficient in cleans but lacks explosive movement (jumps, first step separation, etc.), it would be futile during some parts of the season to work something so technically complex when the actual gains would not show up for months down the road.  If they don’t demonstrate the explosive vertical burst and lack the confidence and core strength to rack the weight efficiently, they will not get more explosive by doing that lift.  And to compound the situation you are setting them up for injury.

A conditioning example would be a team that lacks the aerobic base required to last the entire game.  If the workout timeline called for sprints to develop maximum speed and the players were too fatigued after the first few to put in the effort required for this workout, then you are training them in a slower state, thus not developing max speed, and not really developing any aerobic endurance either.  Sure the players look tired and tell you that the workout was difficult, but what did it do for them?  Are they going to play better on Saturday because of that series of ¾ speed sprints?

Scott Moody acts as the director of the SoccerFIT Academy in Overland Park, KS and has spent the last 10 years developing a curriculum that bridges the gap between the physical and the technical developmental aspects of soccer. His website, www.soccerfitacademy.com is designed to be an educational site that promotes discussion, offers ideas and breaks down current trends in research and training to offer suggestions as to how it can be applied to youth player development. Scott also is a featured speaker, author and research fellow for numerous organizations, equipment manufacturers and online training magazines.

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