Training with Purpose: Individualization

TAGS: traits., tolerance, self-regulation, cooperation, training performance, workload, concentration, Readiness, Gabriel Naspinski, confidence, training athletes, motivation'

When it comes to training athletes, certain individualities need to be considered. Most may think that this will be in reference to exercise selection, qualification, and so on, but there are other variables to be considered. Besides just exercise selections and volumes, a coach must also have the ability to individualize both physical and psychological traits. While intensity, volume, selection, and other variables are important, they don’t matter if they're poorly chosen or applied without consideration to other factors.

Traits

The traits that I'll discuss in this article were taken from a table on page 33 of Issurin’s Block Periodization 2. It describes the characteristics that affect each athlete’s individual traits. I'll list all of them and give some real world examples of each to bring them into perspective.

Here is the table as it is listed in the text. For each characteristic, it provides examples on opposite ends of the spectrum.

When looking at this table, it is important to understand that not every athlete will be purely high or low in each category. Also, some of these characteristics are situational. With things being as fragmented as they are in certain team sports, the way an athlete perceives each individual coach, segment, or the process can influence many of these factors.

Examining the traits

All these traits can be expanded on and examples can be provided. From here, we can break the traits down and start to provide some real world examples of each.

Effect caused by training: With this trait, your athletes either seem to get better no matter what they do or they never improve regardless of how hard they work or how many extra workouts they do. These are the two extremes of the spectrum. In between this lies all the athletes who are probably experiencing some gains but aren’t anything atypical of training. This trait will also be dependent on many factors such as motor abilities, genetics, and so on. However, there will always be the athletes who have a high response rate and seem to do the bare minimum of what is necessary (or less if not watched) and the guys who will stay late, do everything asked of them and more but make almost no gains. This trait can explain why some programs are substandard but athletes succeed in spite of the shortcomings. It also can explain the opposite where a knowledgeable coach may have a group of low responders and has to try to actively make his programming the best to get anything out of them.

General tolerance to high workloads: With this trait, the athlete's ability to recover from stressors is in question. There will be extremes to each side of this and it can revolve around intensity, volume, or frequency. To provide some examples, there is always the classic use of the Bulgarian template for weightlifting. The athletes who succeeded with this template had a high tolerance to a high frequency, high intensity workload. The ones who everyone saw win medals are those who could withstand this type of training. What no one saw were the ones who didn’t have this ability to cope with the workloads. They were most likely ground into dust in the training halls of Bulgaria during this era.

This is something that will be individual to many athletes. This also explains why there are many different approaches that work, though they don’t work for everyone. Some athletes do well on low frequency, intensity driven programs with a relatively low amount of volume. Others can cope with a high amount of loading and may be better served by the numerous programs that cater to this. This also is dependent on past training.

An interesting consideration here is something that you see a lot of in team sports. Often times, an athlete will be out of shape and have a low amount of work capacity. The common remedy is to run this athlete into the ground in an attempt to “condition” him. Sometimes this works, but other times it leads to injuries or poor performance or eventually the athlete quits the sport. While there is a need to raise work capacity, it isn’t something that can happen overnight. If an athlete's tolerance to workloads is already low, increasing the volume will most likely cause more fatigue. Fatigue masks fitness and performance may drop even more in this case.

Motivation: In every sport, there will always be athletes who can generally motivate themselves and those who can’t. Athletes at the high end of this trait are goal oriented and understand that training and practicing are part of the equation to reaching their goals. Athletes who are on the low end don't always have the ability to connect the dots that training and practicing will make them better players. They may only be motivated by extrinsic factors such as making big plays in a game, money, or scholarships. While the athletes at the higher end of the spectrum are motivated by and understand the process (i.e. intrinsically motivated), those at the lower end are only motivated by the product and can’t link the process to this.

On the team I coach, I have one player who is very goal oriented and understands that every part of the process (physical preparation, films, practice) will make him a better linebacker. With this player, I rarely have to motivate him to want to be part of any training session or other team related activity. On the other hand, one of our wide receivers only cares about things such as catching touchdowns, getting letters from colleges, and girls. He sees training, practicing, and films as things that he is obligated to be at but doesn't understand the purpose of any of these in the process of making him a better player.

Some might think that motivation comes from screaming and jumping around. This isn't the case. In my program, I don't run workouts like a cheerleader. I give my athletes cues, correct mistakes, provide reinforcement, and maintain a level of control in the room. In my experience, athletes motivate each other behaviorally. It is also important to understand that some athletes are only motivated to participate in training and practice when there are negative consequences such as reduced playing time or punishment. This is all part of knowing your athletes.

Self-regulation: In this category, the athlete is able to regulate both his behavior and his effort. He is able to change the way he is performing on his own without positive or negative reinforcement from a coach. Athletes who are high in this category can take a cue to either step up their performance (in a matter of effort) or control their emotions/behavior and make the correct adjustments. Athletes who are low in this category can’t make adjustments on their own to their effort or behavior and need a coach to either enforce punishment or take other measures.

For example, let's say that a player is asked to go full speed on a particular drill. After being corrected on a substandard effort, a highly self-regulated athlete would go at the correct intensity. A poorly self-regulated athlete would need a punishment to be inflicted or would need to be threatened in order to engage the appropriate amount of effort. In regards to behavior, an athlete with a high amount of self-regulation could control himself when having a penalty called or giving up a score. An athlete with a low amount of self-regulation may make a smart ass comment to a coach or referee or get into a post-play argument or fight with an opposing player. Lifters with good self-regulation may take something such as a red light for depth and listen to the judges’ comments, adjust, and make their next attempts. A poorly self-regulated lifter would probably piss and moan about the judges fucking him over or complain that his suit needs more weight to get down and then go on to raise his next attempt only to miss it twice and bomb.

Readiness to cooperate: The athlete with a high readiness to cooperate will allow coaches to make suggestions about his performance and actively attempt to acknowledge suggestions. The athlete will be open to criticism and will want to know how he can work to improve. He will also cooperate with teammates and trust that everyone is working for his best interests. Low readiness to cooperate will be marked by an unwillingness to take suggestions or criticism, an inability to follow game plans that don't highlight that athlete, and an inability to trust others. For example, an athlete with a high readiness to cooperate will actively attempt to use a coach or teammate’s suggestions and work on the cues given to improve. He will also be open to criticism and trust that his coach or teammate is doing something that will make him a better athlete. An athlete with a low readiness to cooperate may respond to suggestions or criticisms with apathy. He may make comments such as “that won’t work for me” and doesn’t trust that his coach or teammates are looking out for his best interests. These types of athletes may not block if the ball isn’t coming to them and may not play hard if they aren’t the focal point.

Possibility of concentration: This is one of the easier markers to observe. High athletes will be able to concentrate on the task at hand. They will actively follow what is going on and pay attention to the details of what is being asked of them. These are the athletes who will have their eyes on a coach when he is talking, watch those in front of them in a drill, and understand what both they and others performed incorrectly or correctly. Athletes with poor concentration will drift off, talk to others while not actively engaged, not pay attention to details, and not understand what is correct or incorrect. On a football team, the athlete with good concentration will keep his eyes on the game and know what is going on even if he isn't on the field. Those with poor concentration will be talking to teammates and missing transitions and call ups and won't know what the down and distance may be.

Confidence: More often than not, this characteristic is situational. Some athletes who display confidence in practice or training may have issues with high stress situations. Athletes who are confident in performance won't waver in high stress situations and would want the game to depend on them. This is seen with quarterbacks who have high completion percentages on game winning drives. This can also be observed in a lifter who needs to make his third attempt to beat an opponent. Those with low confidence may not display proficiency when the game is in their hands. They may also not like to be tested in practice. However, these athletes may be able to perform drills or win contests when the outcome isn't high pressure. Another aspect of confidence is the athlete's ability to trust that his practice and training has adequately prepared him. An athlete with low confidence may scramble to perform more work at the last minute or think that his coach hasn't given him correct information or the proper training to win. Coaches also suffer here with many performing excessive workloads in pre-season camps due to the fact that they think their athletes aren't technically proficient or in shape enough for the sport.

Considerations

Now that the traits are defined, there are some things to consider. Athletes on a team can fall into numerous categories, but there isn’t always a pattern. For example, a high responder won't necessarily be capable of withstanding large volumes of intense work. He may not be highly motivated or self-regulated. It takes the ability to look at your athletes and know each one individually. Sometimes certain traits such as motivation or confidence aren’t apparent in the beginning. These may become easier to observe in time as the athlete develops.

These traits may apply to one aspect of the process but not others. Some athletes may be game day players who are only motivated to give their best effort in competition. These athletes often go through the motions in practice and don’t train hard but will show up and make plays when needed. Other athletes may be very confident in controlled environments such as training or practice, but when they're put into high stress situations, they'll “shit the bed,” as many coaches put it. Many of the traits are situational and can be influenced by numerous factors including the strength of the opponent, the importance of the competition, and the trust of the coaches/training.

Additionally, many times coaches will consider the athletes who can withstand high workloads to be indestructible. They believe that they are their "go to" guys. However, when examining these athletes in terms of pure ability or talent, they're middle of the road. The fact of the matter is these athletes are able to withstand high workloads because their level of output isn't very high. Because of this, they appear to be able to put in a lot of work, but in reality, it may be at a fraction of the output that a more talented athlete puts into each rep. On the other hand, sometimes the most talented athletes have higher risks of injury, appear to fatigue easier, and aren't able to withstand high amounts of work. This is for the opposite reason of high outputs. In this case, less may be more in terms of loading.

Conclusion

When working with athletes, it is important to know that individual characteristics can manifest themselves in a number of ways. These traits aren't uniform across all aspects of the process. Some athletes may display confidence and motivation and be ready to cooperate in certain areas of their sport but may lack these same characteristics in other aspects. The amount of work that can be tolerated can depend on a number of factors that need to be looked at objectively. It is important to realize that many traits are situational. Many athletes are different, and as a coach, it is important to observe and make decisions that fit the best interests of each athlete.

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