February 23, 2016

The Changing Landscape of Physical Performance in Modern Day Sport

Written by:
Coach Logic


CL: With increased player speed and fitness, should pitches be made bigger to accommodate? Would bigger pitches produce more attacking rugby?
DB: I doubt an increase in field size will happen. Potentially 1-2 less players per team may be considered. However, I would suggest both of these changes are not yet necessary. There are still considerable gains to be made in player capability and capacity. Namely, we have not yet come close to hitting ceiling with improving player movement and running skills. This is very obvious in the difference between the Northern and Southern hemisphere games. I suggest, as a generalisation, immense performance gains can still be made insofar as the capability and capacity to both get on/off the ground and to contest the ‘play-low’ aspects of the forward play. Furthermore, for a running game, running skills are still quite crude compared to what is possible in the future. These gains can be taken from wrestling and athletics respectively – not the exact same drills from these disciplines, but the concepts per se.
CL: The Six Nations schedule is pretty exhausting. Can peak performance be maintained across the duration of the tournament?
DB: Absolutely. Aside from competition stress, travel stress is not that significant. There exists breaks between games in the tournament, which allow for the stress cycle of training, recovery and competition to be applied on a case to case basis for each player and team. With concise planning peak performance can certainly be maintained. Good planning gives direction and purpose to the training during these periods. Periodisation simply is an educated attempt at prediction of future performance based on evaluation of previous competition and training load.
CL: How many games over a 30+ game season can a player give 'peak performance' for?
DB: Difficult question to answer, as there always exists a good deal of variability between players. As a generalisation, it is certainly possible to play ≥ 30 games per season, but is not always sustainable for extended periods within a season. It has been my experience that 'peak performance' does drop off. Often this is only discernible to an experienced coach. Individual and teams cannot maintain peak physical condition for the entire length of a 7-9 month season. Periods must be planned for both recovery and hard training. Variation of training load produces superior results to the monotonous loads of training and competition.
CL: The British winter has not been the best of recent. Would the sports you have been involved in benefit from a switch away from the middle of winter?
DB: Mid-season warm weather camps is something the wealthier English Premiership clubs do very well. Variety of training both in type and location is a training variable. Seasonal mood disorder is very real for a certain percentage of the population. Rugby players are not immune to this either.
CL: With sport becoming more physical, do you see the average age of a team coming down? At what age do you think an average sports person peaks at physically speaking? Scotland U20's recently thrashed England U20's. Can an U20 player step up to international level and compete?
DB: No. On the contrary I believe rugby is a late specialisation sport. With improvements in training methods, sport science and medicine, players are now extending their careers into their mid-late 30s. This is consistent with other late specialisation strength/power sports such the throwing events in athletics.
It is possible for U20s player step up to international level and compete, but rare. Typically, speed, strength and power qualities do not typically peak in rugby players to an international level until late 20s. This does not necessitate they cannot play at the highest level before then. However, it is important to place a real emphasis on allowing younger players’ physicality to being allowed to develop both in a pre-season and in-season situation.
CL: England are renowned for having the largest financial budget in World Rugby. As you famously helped the Brumbies bridge financial difficulties to reach the Grand Final, where have they gone wrong with their system and will it improve under Eddie Jones?
DB: Unbeknown to many Eddie Jones was very instrumental in rebuilding the Brumbies at the end of the 2011 season. Eddie continued his counsel right up until the 2013 Super Rugby final. He guided his close friend Jake White a great deal. This included recommending targeting the appointment of Laurie Fisher and myself. Also too, Brumbies CEO, Andrew Fagan’s support from the outset was exceptional. Andrew supported the ambition of having the ideal of the world’s best rugby program; despite operating off the 2nd lowest budget off all Australian Super Rugby franchises he strategically provided the human and financial resources to support this goal.
We took on a mindset of, know what you can do with available resources – and do it. Know what you cannot do – and do not even try. For the Brumbies to elevate from a bottom 3 team to a top 3 we had to take a risk and ‘do different things’ and ‘do things differently’.
Money, facilities and equipment were not the answer for us. We placed a big emphases on good qualified coaches and a systematic approach to coaching. Laurie Fisher and Stephan Larkham were incredible to work with. Integration of the rugby program to all other areas of player preparation was unprecedented. Laurie’s technical ability is comparable to the best Olympic sport coaches I have worked with.
Nothing occurred in isolation. There was a genuine performance paradigm in place from day one. All sport medicine, athletic performance, nutrition and analysis staff bought into a ‘can do’, rather a ‘cannot do’ philosophy to all aspects of player preparation. This allowed the acceleration of the ‘gap’ between a bottom 3 team to a top 3 team to be analysed and bridged very quickly.
We accepted we may not have been the most talented group, but we made ourselves the best prepared physically. A very high level integration between rugby and athletic performance programming saw us possess the highest possible levels of physicality in order to execute-sustain tactical & technical skills. There was an attitude of rather than, ‘train like you play’, we adopted an attitude of ‘play like you train’.
The Brumbies-Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) partnership was a tremendous asset. Being able to gain access to AIS facilities, expertise and services that have underpinned Australia’s success in world sport over the last 20 years was tremendous. We utilized expertise and services from the AIS Nutrition, AIS Sport Science/Medicine and AIS Strength and Conditioning Departments. This allowed our players to be exceptionally educated in terms of recovery and training strategies.
England will improve enormously under Eddie. However, he needs the opportunity to facilitate this. Improvements will come in stages. I believe they can become they most dominate team in the world in 3 years’ time.

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