I studied sport at university with the goal of becoming a coach. As such I took the course Coaching 1. On the first day, in the first lecture the lecturer introduced to us the Five Principles of Training. They are:
- Overload – i.e. practice a lot of what you want to get better at, do a lot of repetitions
- Recovery – i.e. have some days when you practice less
- Reversibility – i.e. if you don’t practice something you get worse at it
- Specificity – i.e. practice exactly the thing you want to get better at
- Individuality – i.e. everybody learns and improves differently
As a quick aside, it is fairly standard in the English literature to focus on specificity of training as the key principle. In my experience in Europe, this principle doesn’t seem to exist. When presenting on training methodology in Germany, for example, I have to spend the first part of the presentation explaining the concept of specificity and agreeing on a German language terminology. But I digress…
From my perspective there are two key principles here: Overload (repetitions) and Specificity. The reason the are the key principles is that they are mutually exclusive. The maximum number of repetitions is the least specific practice. And the most specific practice, contains the least number of repetitions. For example, the most specific form of volleyball practice is a match, or simulated match. This is least number of repetitions you can have in a given time (unless of course you are not practicing volleyball at all, which is a different post). Every ‘extra’ repetition you add to practice, makes that practice, and importantly also that repetition, less specific. And if you follow that to it’s logical conclusion you can have a practice with a lot of repetitions that has zero specificity. There are many examples of this kind practice; any individual practice, pepper, etc.
The art of coaching is finding the balance between these two competing principles. The exact balance changes depending on the level of the team, the proximity to competition and the stage of the season just for starters. Every time you move in one direction on that continuum, you lose something and you have to understand exactly what you are gaining and losing each time you do. It is a battle.
Practice is a constant ‘battle’ between specificity and repetitions.
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