Strength Report: Summer Conditioning-Mental and Physical Preparation for a Championship Seasonby: Dan EasonHead Strength and Conditioning Coach, Stephen F. Austin State University
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During the summer off-season, it’s time to make a final push to reach peak levels of conditioning in anticipation of a championship season. Preparation this time of year is critical to the success of our program. It allows our coaches to focus on all aspects of football and eliminates the need for additional work to get the players in shape.
Although the needs of athletes may still vary at this time due to uncontrollable circumstances, we must develop our programs to meet these needs in an efficient and manageable manner that continues to facilitate the growth and development of each athlete. The conditioning program must promote mental toughness through a physically and mentally challenging training plan that is both simple and flexible in it’s ability to adapt the conditioning demands placed on the athletes on a daily basis.
The conditioning program should facilitate the following changes in the athletes:
• Increased confidence in athletes’ performance level and consistency of effort.
• Improved recovery time, through increased resistance to fatigue, allowing athletes to perform at peak levels throughout competition.
• Reduced occurrence of injuries due to improved conditioning of the athletes.
Mental conditioning is the toughest part of the training process. There’s nothing easy about it. It’s critical to create an environment in which the athletes learn to compete, so we put them in competitive situations at the end of the conditioning when they’re fatigued. By getting the players out of their comfort zone and putting them in these situations, we are able to promote competitive toughness and improve their ability to maintain focus for four quarters of football. It is through these difficult times that they become more demanding of each other and team chemistry continues to develop as confidence increases.
The primary focus of our training in the summer is to promote movement efficiency and prevent injuries. Movement efficiency requires less energy expenditure and puts our athletes in a better position to handle the dynamic movements and impact of the game, limiting the risk of injury and improving performance. Therefore, training in the summer focuses on the continued development of speed, strength and conditioning with the emphasis shifting to more directed movements and explosive efforts.
Implementing a dynamic warm-up routine improves flexibility and mobility of the ankles, knees, and hips – improving the athlete’s ability to play in a good football position.
We also utilize running drills to develop coordinated movement mechanics-enabling athletes to focus on proper body lean, knee drive, and how to load and strike the ground with their foot.
While plyometric training enables the athletes to utilize the eccentric loading of the muscles on contact with the ground and transfer these forces into explosive movements on the field, coordinated movement patterns require the athletes to have full control of their body and maintain an active base relative to their center of gravity. As a result, high speed changes of direction and the ability to react explosively on the field are developed throughout the off-season program.
Finally, conditioning is an accumulation of the entire training process in which a combination of various training means have been used to promote a conditioning effect that’s close to the demands placed on the athletes during competition.
At Stephen F. Austin State University, our average number of series for the 2009 football season was 14, lasting an average of 6 seconds with rest intervals less than 25 seconds. A key component of our offense is a fast-paced tempo in their execution of assignments. Defensively, our players are aggressive and play extremely fast, enabling them to be disruptive on the field and control the tempo of the game. A breakdown in conditioning could lead to broken plays on offense and giving up the big play on defense, ultimately changing the outcome of the game. Highly conditioned athletes are able to stay in a good football position, initiate contact and control their opponent, and therefore create opportunities on the field.
June is more of a general conditioning phase in which we increase the volume from previous training to place a higher demand on the energy system requirements for July. That month focuses on more explosive movements and an increase in the specific conditioning demands placed on the athletes.
We put our players into two groups, Skill and Big Skill. The volume, rest times, and drills vary based on the energy demands placed on the athletes and the amount of resistance they overcome on the field (See our June/July schedule on page 8).
We demand the best from our athletes on a daily basis. Anything less is unacceptable. It is only through hard-working dedicated athletes that realize the importance of preparation and don’t accept average as the standard that provides the most successful component to our program.