Balancing the On & Off the Field Demands of a Sport

Life of an athlete. They balance school, homework, social lives, multiple sports, and more. But where does strength and conditioning come in? How do they balance their time between practice, games, and off the field training in the gym?  Before we breakdown how to balance practices, games, strength and conditioning, and other life activities I think it’s important to go over why it’s all important.

In sport there are four crucial components: practice, games, strength and conditioning, and free time. Everyone sees the importance of practice, and games. However, it is typically the latter of the two that get overlooked. Parents, coaches, and kids all see the benefits of practice, and games. They encourage daily practices, and multiple games per week. Although most coaches have too high of a volume for practice, the benefit of practicing your sport is seen. And the game, well that’s why they play the sport so no need to go over that.

My goal here is to show that practices and games are only a percentage of the sport. Strength and Conditioning is crucial for any athlete, as is time off from the sport. A lot of parents and even coaches don’t see the importance of both. They overload their kids with multiple teams, daily practices, and more games than a kid can handle. What happens? Well if it continues most likely you will see some type of overuse or over training injury, as well as the kid will mentally burn out from the sport. This may not happen next week, next month, or next season. But, if you’re pushing your 6th grader to play in 3 soccer leagues and you can continue to do that, over training injuries and mental frustrations are bound to happen.

The benefits of strength and conditioning are endless. However, what I see most commonly  is parents treat strength and conditioning as pre-season training for their kids. They enroll their kids for 2-3 months before the upcoming season, and then we don’t see them again for another 9-10 months. This puts the strength coach in a tough position as they only have 2-3 months to work on the athletes restrictions, goals, and performance enhancement. Even worse, since they leave for 9-10 months, when the coach does get them back next year they are back to square one with strength, power, mobility, and everything else that practices and games don’t work on. Practices are great for practicing the sport, but how do you get stronger? How do you jump higher? How do you prevent injury? Those are things you can’t practice on the field. Developing the strength to push the defensive lineman out-of-the-way who is bigger then you, developing the power to jump up and reach the net, or developing the ability to decelerate quickly to prevent injury are things that can only be trained off the field, in a strength and conditioning facility.

Year round strength and conditioning is vital for long-term success of an athlete. 

If you want to be a good athlete you must be strong, powerful, agile, and most importantly, INJURY FREE. A strength and conditioning program should be a supplement to your sport. Just like a good nutritional supplement, it won’t fix a bad diet. But when combined with a good diet, it can produce amazing results. It’s clearly seen with my athletes at STS. The athletes who stay with us year round see constant improvement, and stay injury free. The athletes who treat strength and conditioning as a pre-season training fix, their results are inconsistent, and they usually spend some quality time with the athletic trainer. An injury most likely due to poor lack of mobility, something often overlooked in a strength and conditioning program. Bottom line, if you or your kid wants to have long-term success in their sport, you better find time to follow a structured, year-round strength and conditioning program.

So you got 3/4 of the puzzle figured out. You’re practicing, you’re going to the games, and you follow a structured strength and conditioning program. What’s next? What’s next is taking a break from all that. Eat good food, get plenty of sleep, and do something you love other than your sport. Read a book, go fishing, watch a movie, hang out with your family, anything that doesn’t relate to the sport. Similar to anything else in life, if you do to much of anything, eventually you are going to reach a breaking point and get burnt out. Should you get lazy and never practice, not lift, and eat like crap? No. But you need to find time in life to enjoy the small things, and realize there are other things in life besides playing the sport.

Here at STS we work a lot with lacrosse athletes. They not only play for their local school, they play on travel teams, private teams, and every other league possible. It is part of our job as coaches to educate the parents and the kids about how to balance everything. Below you will find a year round layout of what we suggest for one of our lacrosse athletes:

In-Season:

March-June

  • Practice 4-5 times per week
  • Games 1-3 times per week
  • Strength & Conditioning 1-3 times per week-Typically done on days that are either off from the sport, or just a light practice.
  • Monday: Practice + S&C Session
  • Tuesday: Practice
  • Wednesday: Practice + Game
  • Thursday: Practice + S&C Session
  • Friday: Practice
  • Saturday: Game
  • Sunday: OFF

We love having Sundays off. It gives the athlete a day to chill out, watch TV, and recover. Don’t go out in the backyard and shoot, don’t practice, don’t lift. One day to rest, and relax.

Post-Season: 

July

This is the chance to really fill up on the 4th piece of the puzzle: relaxing. The athlete just busted butt for 3 months practicing, playing hard in games, and getting a few S&C sessions in. Post-Season is a time to recover from the season, and get ready for a hard-working off-season in the gym. Program design in the post-season is built towards recovery.

  • Monday: S&C Session
  • Tuesday: S&C Session
  • Wednesday: OFF
  • Thursday: S&C Session
  • Friday: S&C Session
  • Saturday/Sunday: OFF

Off-Season:

August-December

Off-season is the time to bust butt in the gym. We’re not worried about being a little sore because we’re not playing the sport. We can lift heavy, build up good solid foundational strength. As far as speed and agility, off-season is spent making sure we have good form and technique. Movement days take place, but the volume is not high, nor is it sport specific. Sport specific drills are saved for pre-season as we want to peak their performance for the sport itself. The number one goal in the off-season is to build up good strength. We follow a very similar schedule to the post-season, except for the fact that the exercises are vastly different. We shift from recovery, hypertrophy, and high reps, to heavy weights and lower reps.

  • Monday: S&C Session
  • Tuesday: S&C Session
  • Wednesday: OFF
  • Thursday: S&C Session
  • Friday: S&C Session
  • Saturday/Sunday: OFF

Pre-Season:

January-March

This is where we can get sport-specific. We transition from strength focused, to power focused. The motions are focused on taking those strong muscles, and getting them to move fast. Our medicine ball volume increases as that is all power, as does sport specific speed & agility drills. The volume is high in the weightroom, and the athlete should be getting excited to play again. Maybe instead of playing video games, they go out in the back yard after dinner and shoot into the net.

Here is a typical schedule for our pre-season athletes:

  • Monday: S&C Session
  • Tuesday: Speed, Agility, & Quickness (SAQ)
  • Wednesday: S&C Session
  • Thursday: SAQ
  • Friday: S&C Session
  • Saturday/Sunday: OFF

The ultimate goal during pre-season is to get those recovered, strong muscles, to move quickly. Mentally the athlete has missed the sport and is ecstatic to play.

Concluding, I think it is important that just because you play the game a lot doesn’t mean you will be successful in your sport. Just because you practice a lot doesn’t mean you will be successful. Yes, natural ability has a lot to do with it, but if you’re not including a year round strength and conditioning program, and taking some down time away from the sport your really trying to go upstream without a paddle.

Questions? Feedback? I would love to hear all about it!

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About Spurling Training Systems

At Spurling Training Systems, our focus is on providing a superior athletic conditioning experience. The combination of expert training, time spent understanding your specific goals and customized program development is what makes Spurling Training Systems a unique and effective training experience for athletes of all ages, levels and abilities. Doug is the founder and owner of Spurling Training Systems. He graduated from University of New England with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Exercise Science. He has several years of experience as both a personal trainer for general fitness and a strength and conditioning coach for athletes. His certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) include Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT).
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