Any seasoned coach or athletic director will tell you, physical conditioning routines can either be your worst nightmare or your best friend. Demand too much or too little out of your athletes and you can end up with overly challenged players who think they do not have what it takes, or bored players who want to quit. Go about physical conditioning the wrong way and you can put your athletes at risk for serious potential injuries. Go too easy on your athletes and you won’t be able to stand up to your opponents. Getting the right physical conditioning routine is a vital part of coaching any sport. The right balance has to be struck in order to meet training goals and overall team goals.
Physical Fitness: What is it?
Let’s start with a review of the basics. Physical fitness refers to the overall individual physical condition. It is different for each person and can range from extreme illness and near death, to peak performance, like top Olympic and decorated athletes. Fitness is an integral part of any sport, whether it be lacrosse, tennis, football, taekwondo, track and field, basketball or anything in between. Fitness becomes even more important in competitive sports. Coaches should remember that the more physically fit their players are, the better performance they will have.
Benefits of Physical Conditioning in Athletics
There are many mental and physical benefits of a quality physical conditioning program. These benefits can ring true for athletes in any discipline and include:
- Increased self-confidence on and off of the playing field
- Players with more strength and resilience
- Optimized cognitive skills
- Increased technique and power
- Promoting mental strength
- Decreased number and severity of sports injuries
- Delayed fatigue when playing
- Better performance
- Quicker and fuller recovery
- Ensures quality practice
- Makes the athlete better at their sport, and potentially other sports
- Improved health and quality of life
The Role of Physical Conditioning
For athletes under the age of 12 or 13, technique is the most important factor to consider when conditioning for best performance. After this age, physical conditioning becomes more important and will require a more structured approach. After the age of 16, studies show that physical conditioning is the second most important factor in sports performance. Mentality is the first factor.
Components of Physical Fitness
Physical fitness is more than just how fast you can run or how many pull-ups you can do. It is more than just how good you are at running ladders, or how long you can squat. Physical fitness is holistic. Physical fitness encompasses several areas, including:
A good physical conditioning routine will include exercises that work on each of these areas. Working on one more than another can cause an imbalance, therefore causing injuries and decreased performance.
Endurance is defined as the capacity to keep going with prolonged low-intensity physical activities and delaying the onset of fatigue. It is also defined as the ability to endure many short bursts of high-intensity physical activity over a long period of time. Muscular endurance means the muscle can exert a force repeatedly during a long period of time, or have the strength to sustain it.
Strength is the maximum force a muscle or a group of muscles together can generate against some form of resistance. There are different types of strength; maximum, endurance, explosive, upper body, and lower body.
The time it takes to coordinate a specific movement of individual joints, or the body as a whole is referred to as speed. Speed is also defined as the ability to accelerate and move quickly across short distances. For many athletes reaction speed, or response time is very important in performance. For other athletes, like short distance runners, power or explosive speed, also known as speed over distances less than 10 meters is very important. Long-distance runners need endurance speed; the ability to keep speed over 10-15 seconds of time, or the ability to perform with repeated bouts of intense physical activity, with periods in between where complete recovery is not possible.
Coaches Responsibility in Physical Conditioning
All coaches, no matter the sport, or the age group, are responsible for creating research-based drills. These conditioning techniques should be age and sport appropriate. Teaching techniques should support the athlete in his or her physical and sports development while respecting and allowing for safety. Coaches should encourage their athletes to make good decisions with their health and physical conditioning. Low-risk training practices should be encouraged and upheld.
Equipment and Environment in Athletics
During all practices and training, coaches should be aware of their equipment and environment. All equipment should be in a safe, useable condition. Unsafe equipment should be removed from access and thrown out or repaired. Leaving it around creates the potential for it to accidentally be used by an unknowing player. The coach should also check the environment, such as the playing field or the gym floor, to be sure there are no hazards.
In addition, coaches need to supervise their athletes during all physical conditioning sessions. They should be sure the athletes are well-hydrated and not over-tiring themselves. Athletes should be encouraged by coaches to take a break or slow down when it becomes necessary.
Coaches who can strike the right balance in their physical conditioning routines and still maintain safety for their athletes are the most successful all around. Documenting progress and celebrating successes, including safe training and practices can enrich the physical conditioning process.
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Mayo Clinic, “Fitness basics”