The Speed Freak Football: practice faster than game-speed to get match-specific conditioning and avoid injuries

Dodgers getting some ‘conditioning’ in sunny Florida: still want to do it like 1949?

Training serves to prepare one to a situation where one will have to display a certain set of skills to accomplish a result. Whether it’s a game, a speech or a drama, practice should get one accustomed to a particular environment which includes rules, tempo and emotional involvement that are specific to that performance.

On the physiological side, one wants his body to be prepared to what the feat requests. If one needs to climb the Everest he better be ready to the cold, if a singer has to scream for three hours he better have his vocal folds ready to do it. So if one plays for a team sports and needs to sprint, stop, catch, shoot, fly back to the defensive half court for the chasedown, reverse again his direction after a steal and take off for a dunk, why would he train running loops?

I think this topic enters the training myths and beliefs on the index. This is true at all levels. Countless are the accounts from local basketball teams starting their season with long, slow-paced runs along the river. For how romantic and good for the team chemistry this might sound, I guess we might have unveiled the common high % of injuries at season start of such teams. Shifting to higher levels, things get only partially better. Teams get involved in some strength training which has the potential of decreasing injury rates by making the body more ready to absorb game shocks. Bad luck, this is often coupled with ‘general aerobic preparation’, conditioning which does not resemble the on-court environment.

Game time finally comes and at the end of the day the coach concludes that the team is not yet in full shape and needs to adjust to a full-game pace. Needless to say, one should ask ‘why’?

More important, not only a performance specific practice regimen would improve on-court results, but could finally stop the higher injury chance found at the beginning of a season. Epidemiological data suggest that this occurs for the same reason why one does not perform well early in the season, he is just not accustomed to what and how things happen on the battlefield.

Again, specificity is what acts to promote body adaptability to a stress. That’s why an Olympic endurance swimmer is likely not to be a good marathon runner. The body use its adaptation energy and channels it towards the specific stressors it encounters.

A recent display of game specific practice and its success comes from an American football team, University of Oregon. Their positive 2010 season was often paired to the team’s amazing execution speed. Apparently the Ducks’ amazing conditioning would force the opponents to fake injuries to get some rest in-between the plays, as reported in a NY Times article, with the Oregon crowd continuously booing these acts of the other team. This speed freak football is not a gift of the team but comes from preparation.

The Ducks don’t do line to line or full court sprints during practice. Rather, they run the game at a speed which offsets that of real games. ‘The practice itself serves as conditioning. Just like they do during games, Oregon’s players run play after play…but at a pace that exceeds what they can achieve on Saturdays’.

Practicing plays at such high speeds involves all real-game moves like catches, jumps, coverages and makes the players ready to sustain the specific demands of the match. Better, it allows the team’s players to set the match speed themselves, outrunning the poor opponents.

Specificity and preparation applies not only to team sports but to any performance. Bear it in mind when getting ready for something and do not fall off the track. Time is running.



NY Times – Speed freak football

Verkhoshansky – The GAS concept


About bodyhackonversation

Exercise philanthropist
This entry was posted in conditioning, health, injury, Muscles, Sports medicine, Sports science, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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