As Winter sports are entering post-season competition and spring sports are approaching conference play, strength coaches must deliver great in-season training programs. Competition, increased practice volume, travel, school, and the pressure to win are all significant stressors added during the season. Because of this, in-season programming becomes one of the most delicate aspects of the job. My in-season programming is always guided by 3 main principles; constant communication, consolidate your stress, and implement an adaptable program.
- Constant Communication
During the season, the sport takes priority over all. The strength coach’s primary job to is TO DO NO HARM. In order to reduce the risk of injury as best as possible, communicating practice plans, lifting plans, recovery plans, and game plans between sport coaches, strength coaches, and athletic trainers becomes the most important piece of in-season success. Weekly meetings to make sure that everyone is on the same page are a staple of most successful programs. Constant communication between the strength coach and athletic trainer can help injured athletes get back on the field/court quicker. Knowing the practice plans can help the strength coach structure their program as to not overload the athletes on what is supposed to be an easy day. This goes into the next in-season concept of consolidating your stress.
- Consolidate Stress
Charlie Francis always preached the High/Low training method. This means that your hard days need to be hard and your easy days need to be easy. This ensures that athletes actually recover properly in between hard effort days. A lot of times in-season, athletes stay in the moderate effort zone, which is not beneficial over the course of an entire season. Therefore, I recommend communicating with the coach to make sure that the practice plan and lifting plan are in harmony. For example, I like to have a hard practice and a strength based lift four days before the game. The day after is a lighter practice with an optional mobility session in order to make sure that the athletes recover from their hard day. Operating in a High/Low fashion ensures that athletes are exposed to the proper stress in good sequence to ensure sustained success throughout an entire season.
- Implement an Adaptable Program
The biggest concern of in-season program is the amount of stressors that the athlete experiences. A strength coach must be adaptable when it comes to programming in order to account for these stressors. I always like to use ranges in my programming. Whether they are rep, weight, or percentage, using ranges allows the strength coach to make sure that each athlete is working with an appropriate load for that day. For example, 75% in-season is very manageable except if an athlete did not sleep much and then had a tough practice both physically and mentally. Programming a percentage range of 70-75% allows the fatigued athletes to adjust while still achieving the desired training adaptation. I have also used rep ranges in the past. I assign a percentage for 3-5 reps and watch the set. If I see that technique or speed is dropping off at rep 3, I will stop them there. This ensures that we are getting all quality reps and not putting the athlete at risk of injury. Due to the amount of stressors in-season, having a rigid program will not benefit the athletes. As a coach, we must be adaptable to ensure we are putting the athlete in the best position to succeed.
In-season training is always tricky because of the physical and mental stress of competition, increased practice volume, school, and training. Therefore, a strength coach must be very creative with their in-season program. Following these 3 keys to in-season programming will help ensure the sustained success over the course of a long season.