In my first season in Europe, I was acting as an assistant coach and learnt, luckily from observation, many of the lessons that I still remember today. One of the starkest and most important lessons was about structuring the preseason. We had an experienced player come to the team, a little past his best perhaps, but still an excellent player and one that we had directly coveted. Unfortunately, he came to the team having not done any conditioning work in the summer and was in poor shape. The preparation consisted of a lot of ‘old school’ work from the beginning of training, including things like sprints and intervals on a running track. The player was a diligent and hard worker and did all the was required by the coach. To a fault. The excessive and poorly programmed ‘work’ put him into an overtained state from which he did not recover for the whole season**. Due to the that overtrained state he never reached the level that was expected and indeed only played one more season.
You can, fairly, argue that the player was at fault for showing up in poor shape. However, you cannot ignore the role the coach played. We know that nearly all injuries sporting injuries, even accidents, have their origin in some form of fatigue. Coaches control the training load and therefore the level of fatigue in their players. It clearly follows that the coach’s contribution to the number and severity of injuries to those players is very large. Every season you will hear dozens of stories of injured players, and the back story is nearly always some version of the same: too much, too soon, creating excessive fatigue, and very soon after, injuries.
Coaches always think they have to do a lot of work in a very short period of time and can’t waste any time. They think of injuries as the fault of the players in some way, or just accidents to be dealt with along the way. They aren’t. The best way to prevent injuries is to start slowly. Ensuring an excellent physical base is essential before a lot of work is done. If the players are already in good shape, as they should be, you will find out fast enough and can always miss a couple of steps along the way. But once you have gone too far, you can never go back.
If you ever hear of a coach who plays 6 v 6 on the first day of preparation, or after a break, watch how many injuries their team has during the season. And if you want to see just how to program a preparation period with these principles in mind, click here.
**We know from research that once an athlete reaches an overtrained state it is very difficult to come back. The best cure for overtraining is to avoid it all costs. Check out this book for a great review on training and recovery.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.