The Importance of In-Season Sports Performance Training: Part 2

By: Tim Hanaway

Sports Performance Director, Velocity Norwood

In part one of this installment, I set the landscape as to why in-season training was so necessary for youth athletes. In a nutshell, the answer boils down to two main points:

  1. One, in-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
  2. for athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!

Nevertheless, in looking at the other effects of in-season training, or more specifically, a lack thereof, it is essential to note that lack of physical preparation during in-season periods often results in significant increases in injury rates.

For example, in a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a group of British researchers noted that when looking at in-season resistance training on youth professional soccer players, English Premier teams that employed in-season strength and conditioning programs with their athletes spent nearly $494,000 less on sports medicine costs than programs that did not use in-season strength training!

Furthermore, in using one of the teams from the research design as a case-study, the Premiership team in question rose their player availability to 95% (compared to other teams) meaning the coaches could basically pick from their best players throughout the season!

Finally, in adding even more metrics back to the original points listed in installment one of this article, performance metrics increased by as much as 5% when athletes trained as little as 1x per week, compared to nearly doubling (11.6%) when athletes trained 2x per week.

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As a result, the above findings highlight the fact that in-season training reduces the risk of injury drastically, while also providing coaches with the chance to field their best team at all times. Furthermore, athletes who participate in in-season strength training can actually improve their performances throughout the season anywhere between 5 and 12%!

Therefore, for athletes and coaches that are serious about taking team and individual performances to the next level, there is no substitution for in-season training.

Up to this point, in-season training for youth athletes has proved crucial for a multitude of reasons:

  • In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
  • For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
  • Research has shown that at the professional level, in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.

However, in spite of all these positive in-season gains, much confusion still exists with in-season training compared to off-season training! For instance, a question I get asked by parents often is “what is the difference?”

Understanding Your Bank Account

In providing an easy-to-understand analogy, I like to explain to parents that off-season training is very much like opening an ‘athletic savings account.’

With every resistance training, speed, agility, and conditioning session an athlete participates in during the off-season, the athlete is effectively depositing into their personal ‘athletic bank account,’ growing their own personal ‘spending’ power on the field, court or ice in the process.

In other words, off-season training is all about maximizing physical preparation. Given that here at Velocity we train our athletes for speed using our ‘Big Force, Short Time’ formula, using the off-season to build strength and power through resistance training and Olympic lifting allows our young athletes to change their bodies by improving coordination and re-training their nervous systems so that their muscles can produce more force in less time, resulting in quicker reaction times and more explosive skill execution.

As a consequence, the more training an athlete has in the off-season, the more physical ‘currency’ they can draw upon during the competitive season to maximize performance!

Hence, a robust off-season program is characterized by the following:

  • Strength and Power Training using full-body, free-weight movements
  • Speed & Agility Training o improve first-step quickness and top speed mechanics, to enhance coordination, multi-direction reaction times and straight-line speeds.
  • Conditioning Training to fuel performance and reduce recovery times so that athletes can go harder for longer.

Finally, because athletes performing off-season programs do not usually play as many competitive games means more significant time, attention, and detail can go into the off-season program.

How to Withdraw from an Athletic Bank Account But Not Go Broke In the Process!

Given that in-season training is all about putting as much physical preparation currency into an athlete’s ‘bank account,’ competition is where an athlete makes their withdrawals.

For example, every time an athlete goes hard in competition, their muscles and body break down a little bit due to a host of physical processes and microtraumas. Muscle soreness, for example, is often attributed to small microscopic tears in muscle cells that take time, hydration, and proper nutrition to heal.

When an athlete performs in-season training, they continue to ‘top-up’ their athletic bank account, meaning they can continue to go harder, for longer in the season. Athletes that fail to perform in-season training; on the other hand, effectively ‘run out of money,’ they don’t recover as well and instead become more susceptible to injury.

However, because in-season training needs to be balanced with competition means it is characterized by the following:

  • Less training volume: In other words, instead of doing 5 exercises, athletes might instead do 3 to preserve more energy.
  • Less focus on conditioning: Even though practices aren’t necessarily as intense, competitions still are so athletes in-season will condition but not to the same extent as in the off-season.
  • Less focus on speed and agility: Like conditioning, athletes can get plenty of agility and speed work during games and practices. However, certain times they won’t so supplementary speed and agility training will feature, albeit in a reduced format.

In closing, the main difference between off-season and in-season training primarily comes down to emphasis and volume. Like a savings account, off-season training allows athletes to open their own ‘athletic bank account’ of physical skill and preparation that they can withdrawal from all season long.

Failure to perform off-season training (opening the account) and maintain it with fresh deposits (in-season training) leads to significant reductions in sports ability. As a result, it is imperative that athletes train during the off-season and in-season to maximize performance, as well as make continued gains every year.

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