Back in the Game? Tips for Getting Your Team in Shape After a Long Break

“If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” These words from the nine-time Olympic swimming champion, Mark Spitz, convey the importance of preparation in the most obvious way. In sports, your preparation will define not just your performance during the season but also the length of your season. We have seen many professional sports people whose season has been cut short due to repeating injuries. At the same time, we have seen many athletes who have played injury-free seasons, performing at their best. It all comes down to their pre-season preparation. 

When the season is over, giving your athletes a break is vital to rejuvenate your mind and body. Going through a competitive season, game after game, can wear your team down and exhaust them mentally and physically. Relaxing, recovering, and taking their mind off the game will help them regain their edge. But this period might affect their fitness and performance since they no longer practice or work out. Especially if some players have been taking a break due to an injury, they probably have been resting and avoiding practice. 

Advise your players to go through ‘Active Rest’ during the off-season, so they only show up partially detrained for the pre-season training. During the active rest period, instruct athletes to undergo very light-intensity training sessions, which help their body recover faster due to improved blood flow while putting minimal or no stress on the body. Active rest typically includes cycling, swimming, yoga, light resistance training, and running on the treadmill. This “pre-season” preparation is the time to get their mind and body fit and ready to endure the season’s beatings. 

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to pre-season training:

#1 Initial self-assessment 

Even if your players have been practicing active rest during this off-season, it is essential to understand their fitness level at the beginning of the pre-season training. Professional clubs or associations may already have methods of testing your fitness levels. However, if you need that facility, many mobile apps can help you. These apps usually gauge your fitness levels based on the number of bodyweight push-ups, pull-ups, and squats you can do simultaneously, along with speed and acceleration tests.

#2 Set a realistic goal 

You must set a realistic goal for your team for what you expect from the pre-season training program. Consider the current fitness level of every player. Setting an unrealistic goal will only demotivate you and your athletes. So be practical in what you are trying to achieve.

The best way would be to review their past season’s performances and choose areas where you want them to improve. For example, if you want to increase running speed for some players, include interval and hill training in your training schedule. If upper body strength is what you are looking to improve in some players, then weight training sessions can help them. Reviewing your previous games with your support staff and getting their advice on improvements will significantly help you in this goal-setting process.

#3 Record and track your progress

Each training session should take your team closer to your goal. But how will you know if your players are improving unless you track their progress? So, make sure you record your training activities daily.

Apart from the final target, it would be best to have intermediate milestones to ensure you are on track. It will also help you understand if your training program is adequate for your team or whether you need to make corrections.

#4 Include rest days in the training program

It is effortless for an athlete to get over-enthusiastic and start training daily. But this would be a grave mistake. Instead, pre-season training should strengthen your athletes and energize them for the season. Adequate rest is essential, so include off days between training sessions. Take guidance from your support staff to include sufficient resting time in the training program.

#5 Build up slowly and gradually

It can be very tempting for an athlete to perform at the full pace right from the start of the training program. Also, sometimes, athletes would make huge jumps while increasing the intensity of the training. But, unfortunately, it will only result in injuries and ruin your team’s training and preparation. 

Design your training program so that the intensity levels are according to what your player’s body can accommodate comfortably and gradually. The body needs time to recover before you can put it through another grueling training session. As a thumb rule, check whether your athletes feel soreness or pain in their body any time they train. If they carry soreness from the previous session, you might be over-training them, and it is better to stick to light training for that day or even take a day off.

For example, avoid sprinting on the first day of your training module. Sprinting requires the right amount of explosive strength, and sprinting after a gap could result in a hamstring or ankle injury. Instead, starting with a proper warmup would be best. Then, instruct your athletes to sprint at 60% of their regular pace and then increase that slowly over the next few days.

#6 What to include in the training?

Training for any sport should include sport-specific training. For example, soccer training should consist of speed and agility drills, ball control drills, drills for teamwork, and so on. Basketball training should involve drills to improve your jump and shooting, among other things. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “Fundamental preparation is always effective. Work on those parts of your game that are fundamentally weak.” Getting your basics right is essential. Ensure your team dedicates some time to practice and improve on the basics of your game. They need more than sports-specific training to help them become the best. Weight training is essential to gain overall strength. Core strengthening exercises are crucial to enhance performance and improve stability. Dedicating some time to stretching and foam rolling will help your athletes recover faster and become injury-resistant.

If some of your players are nursing an injury, ask for advice from the team’s physiotherapist for rehabilitation for those players. Take special care of them not to aggravate the injury while training. Also, uphold the importance of warming up before training and cooling down after the session. A 10-15-minute session of warmup, which includes light jogging and dynamic stretching, will get their heart rate up and increase blood flow throughout their body. It will improve their training performance and help them avoid injuries. After a training session, brisk walking and stretching can help your athletes cool down and reduce their heart rate.

Prepare a regular training schedule and ensure your coach has reviewed it, as their experienced eye can detect any potential faults. Every athlete requires a unique way of training, depending on the athlete’s capabilities. There might be better drills or workouts that your coach could suggest, which could yield better results.

#7 Strategize

Whether you run a team sports club or an individual sports association, you need strategies to take on the opponent. A game plan for your team based on their strengths and weaknesses would be best. It will build confidence and help your team keep calm in stressful game situations.

Your support staff can help you to identify your player’s weaknesses. Ask support staff to modify your team’s playing style, so your players play to their strengths. It will help to avoid the opponent taking advantage of their weaknesses so that you are in control throughout the season.

#8 Nutrition

A nutrition plan is a fundamental part of your team’s pre-season training. All the hard work would be for nothing unless your athletes get proper nutrition. Their body needs the raw materials to repair the wear and tear from the training and re-energize for the next session. Therefore, their diet must include the right amount of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

The diet plan should be specific depending on the sport. Therefore, you should hire or consult a sports nutritionist to plan your players’ diet. For example, suppose you are running a soccer club where your players must maintain high stamina. In that case, you must ask the nutritionist to prepare a diet chart accordingly.

Keeping your players hydrated is very important for their performance. It is also essential for optimal cognitive and bodily function. Unfortunately, a lack of fluid in the mass can cause cramps and injuries. So, make sure your players are constantly hydrated all the time.

UFC champion Conor McGregor said – “My preparation is about precision. It is science.” It is essential to take a scientific approach to your team’s preparation. A structured and well-planned pre-season training program can help your team become the finest version of themselves and give their best in the upcoming season. Lastly, adopt a right sports management software platform and manage players well both in the pre-season and during the season.

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