INFORMATION LETTER FROM IMMAF COACHING COMMITTEE
Disclaimer: As more and more countries are returning to normality within sports practice, we feel there is a need to assist our coaches in understanding areas of critical concern, while working with athletes returning after the prolonged break. This is not intended as a guide, but solely informative under current circumstances in providing some approaches, teaching methods and coaching strategies proven effective in the past similar circumstances. It is essential that all coaches follow the official guidelines enforced by the national health and sports authorities in their countries when returning to practice.
LONG BREAKS FROM REGULAR SPORTS ACTIVITY AND EFFECT ON THE BODY.
It is quite common in sport that athletes might stop regular practice as a consequence of injury or illness, for example. A short-term break of 1 week is not that critical for the overall condition of an athlete, but 2, 3 and more weeks always have more serious implications.
A volume of research shows that beginners and elite athletes are the two groups most affected by the long “no practice” period. Athletes who have had the opportunity to maintain their condition by doing some physical activity during the lockdown are in the better position and will be able to rebuild their previous condition more easily.
There are two major areas in which an athlete may have lost capacity and be experiencing some deterioration after the long break, each with a domino effect on the other. These are – technical skills and physical qualities.
The Cardio-vascular system is the one most affected after a long break. Its capacity to transport oxygen through the body will be reduced, causing a loss of endurance by up to 20% just after 3 weeks of no practice. The Muscular system will see a decrease in function and an athlete may feel in himself that he is
“less fit, less strong, less agile and fast”. Tendons and ligaments become less flexible and less elastic without regular exercise. Hormonal systems, which were normal before the break, will experience a negative impact too and will be less able to cope with the stress of the physical activity. Moreover, athletes will gain extra weight as a result of temporary inactivity.
REBUILDING PHYSICAL QUALITIES AFTER THE LONG BREAK.
A coach needs to plan return to practice in a careful and mindful way, the main reason being that “an athlete’s body is not the same as a few months before”. Safety and injury avoidance should remain top priority for the whole period of rebuilding the athletes’ condition, as well as beyond.
General rules that should be applied during such a critical and sensitive period of time are:
- In conducting the first training sessions to make the warm-up longer and less intensive;
- Include more general exercises and fundamental moves in the warm-up and main part of the session, and gradually include sport-specific drills as you feel your athletes are ready;
- Spend the first 2-3 weeks on rebuilding general cardio-endurance to previous levels. For this avoid exercises with high intensity and interval training and always allow your athlete full recovery between blocks of exercises;
- Make sure that exercises and drills you are planning for the training session are predominantly aerobic
- and of a mild intensity at the beginning.
- Make sure your athletes have sufficient time for full recovery between drills or blocks of exercises. Keep in mind that recovery rate is very individual.
- When returning to weight training remember that tendons and ligaments may have lost a significant portion of their flexibility and elasticity. Therefore, an athlete should begin with exercises that allow for smaller amplitude in the joints and using moderate weights. Frequency of weight training per week should be significantly reduced from prior to the break in training.
REBUILDING TECHNICAL SKILLS
A coach should consider the following:
- Due to partial loss of intermuscular and intramuscular coordination a well-known technique may be performed with some errors. Therefore, it is not beneficial to start with a quick execution of a technique. It is safer to start rebuilding techniques with slow playback and to increase the speed only when the coach is satisfied that the biomechanical structure of the move, throw, punch etc. is correct.
- Remember the golden sequence of the skill development: 1. precision (perfect biomechanics) strength and finally, 3. speed
- An athlete should start rebuilding their technical skills with pre-arranged drills, to include
- attack-defense, pre-agreed action – reaction. This kind of interaction with the partner will help to rebuild their timing, spatial awareness, and eye-to-hand coordination.
- Sparring should be deferred to a later stage and the decision to start this form of practice needs to be managed very mindfully and carefully.
A steady rate of growth of aerobic capacity of your athletes should be the key indicator of the success of the training plan. The simplest way to monitor progress is to look at recovery rate after mild aerobic exercise.
EXAMPLE: Take any aerobic activity common to your club (and well known to your students), for example, running around the gym for 2 minutes. Check the heart rate straight after the run (HR1), and after the 45 seconds of rest (HR2). Ask your athlete to memorise the difference (HR1-HR2). Repeat the testing every session and compare. The number (difference) should increase, which shows your athlete is recovering more quickly and his body becoming more adapted to the aerobic workload.
A CHECKLIST BEFORE THE START
It is wise to gather some information about your athlete prior to admitting him back to practice:
1. His/ her weight, as many people gain weight during time out of practice
2. His/ her general condition
3. If he/she was able to maintain some activity during the lockdown
IMMAF Coaching Commission wishes everybody a speedy recovery and good luck!