The role of Strength and Conditioning in team sports
Historically strength and conditioning (S&C) was a reserved addition to professional teams at the highest echelons of sport - at least that’s what you’d think given that S&C as a degree or career choice has occurred fairly recently. However, when you understand what S&C is - what it sets out to achieve - you’ll see that it’s always been there, at multiple levels in a disordered and unorganised format.
When I talk about S&C, what I really mean is: any activity done with the intention of improving sports performance that isn’t the sport competition itself. Under that umbrella, it becomes more obvious that individuals and teams have been taking responsibility for this themselves. Unlike two decades ago, sport science now brings to the forefront all those methods that have merit, and those which should remain in the past.
Every athlete wants to be be able to compete at their best, each and every match/race/event. The job of a professional S&C coach is to make this possible, or at least try to. The biggest difference in having S&C provision in a sport setting is that the expert has devoted time to analysing the sport, understanding the skills training, testing athletes and getting to know the team dynamics. He plans the S&C based on and around all of these aspects. Importantly, using scientifically sound and rational methods shown to work time and time again.
Examples of S&C improving measures of physical performance are numerous in scientific literature. Here I’ll discuss just some of the benefits professional teams are bestowed with every season and what separates them from lower level sport. S&C is concerned with but not limited to; strength (the most obvious, but often least understood), speed, agility, both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, injury rehabilitation and prevention, recovery methods, overall movement patterns and motor control.
Transfer of the gym/off pitch training improvements is the greatest concern for many S&C coaches, closely followed by preventing injuries.
Strength has been shown to be a fundamental aspect of performance in almost all sport. As the basis for force production and pre-cursor to skeletal stability, strength training aims to enhance strength qualities (there are many which I’ll talk about in a future post) in a manner that can be utilised in the sport itself. Maximising strength relative to body weight is of great importance for subsequent power development (Newton, 2015). Strength and power have been shown to improve over the course of a typical pre-season (Gannon et al., 2015) but must be maintained if the team is to benefit in all competition events.
Speed, agility (i.e. the ability to both perceive and react to changes in movement options and move accordingly) are trainable qualities. With strength underlying the amount of force possible, speed really depends on the ability to use that strength rapidly (rate of force production - RFD). Delany et al. (2015) explored the role of strength on improving change of direction (COD) ability and found that enhancing players strength directly affected the COD outcomes. Team sports such as football and rugby depend upon perception and time to action for success. The quickest players get to the ball/man with more time to think and react.
Non-contact injuries arise commonly as a result of either improper ‘movement solutions’ (poor motor control or bad technical rehearsal) or due to a lack of structural strength in the injured tissues. Simply put, sometimes competitive circumstances put the body in positions they’re not prepared for. In the worst cases, tissues are just not strong enough to withstand the extra stress and breakdown. Injury prevention strategies aim to address both deficits - movement and tissue capacity. Evidence shows that up to a 40% decrease in injury rate is possible with properly planned training loads and good technical coaching (Soomro et al., 2015). When training is appropriate the effect is positive and the athlete is protected against likelihood of injury, however, if improper methods of training loads are used the athlete is exposed to higher risk (Gabbet, 2016).
Training all these qualities (and more) at once is hugely complex and requires expert planning. Periodisation is the term used to describe how an S&C coach plans to fit this training into different phases and if done well, results in improved performance. It isn’t something that happens by accident or performed randomly. The planning is the hard part, the delivery the fun part, and winning is the rewarding part. Don’t leave things to chance.
Delaney, J. A., Scott, T. J., Ballard, D. A., Duthie, G. M., Hickmans, J. A., Lockie, R. G., & Dascombe, B. J. (2015). Contributing factors to change-of-direction ability in professional rugby league players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(10), 2688-2696.
Gabbett, T. J. (2016). The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2015.
Gannon, E., Stokes, K., & Trewartha, G. (2015). Strength and Power Development in Professional Rugby Union Players Over a Training and Playing Season. International journal of sports physiology and performance.
Newton, R. (2015). http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6UDkodAH7eA/VgmZv0VziPI/AAAAAAAABp8/YYshRFWYMzs/s1600/Power%2Bin%2BTeam%2BSports.png
Soomro, N., Sanders, R., Hackett, D., Hubka, T., Ebrahimi, S., Freeston, J., & Cobley, S. (2015). The Efficacy of Injury Prevention Programs in Adolescent Team Sports A Meta-analysis. The American journal of sports medicine, 0363546515618372.