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Peak Fitness - with Luton Town's Jordan McCann

Part 2 – The Importance of Individualising a Team Sport

The question I am most often asked regarding fitness and conditioning within elite football tends to centre on “How long and how hard should we be training for?”

Unfortunately, and what I find annoys coaches beyond belief, is that there is no one right answer.

Within a team sport, especially football where athletic ability tends to be more diverse than any other, it is vital that every player does NOT do the same volume and intensity of training. By enforcing a ‘blanket’ training protocol, some players’ fitness may be increasing, whilst others are stagnant or even decreasing.

How is this possible?

Put simply, a blanket training regime imposed on a group will often be too hard for some, just right for others (if you’re very lucky), and not challenging enough for certain members of the squad. The latter group, will therefore be training below their physical potential and may see a regression in their fitness or de-training effects.

Individualisation 

So, how do we counteract this fundamental problem? The answer lies in individualisation.

The basis of individualising your training programmes will largely depend on what you do in pre-season. It is critical that all players are put through a battery of tests to ascertain their physical potential in a variety of attributes that are fundamental to football performance.

From the data collected, it is now crucial to analyse it effectively and plan your programmes based on the information you have. This will often involve meeting with players, discussing results and educating them accordingly. After all, there is no easier way to destroy healthy working relationships with your players than to keep sending one to the gym when he has no idea of the long-term thought process behind it.

Yes, I do realise this is a lot of extra work, but it is definitely worth it in the long run.

Once you have your programme in place it is then vitally important to monitor players’ progress. Repeating your battery of tests every 4-6 weeks is advisable to observe any progressions / regressions that are occurring.

However, the most important part of this process is keeping your tests reliable; i.e. controlling the environment and thus repeatability of the tests you do. Without this consistency, you jeopardise the whole scientific rationale for your programme by making judgements on misguided data.

Aerobic fitness 

So, how do we incorporate individualism onto the training pitch?

We all know that players prefer to do as much as possible with the ball on the pitch. Furthermore, managers / coaches want their players with a ball on the pitch.

If you relate back to last week's article - http://www.totalfootballmag.com/features/columnists/peak-fitness-high-intensity-aerobic-training-drill/ - you can see that when working on a player’s aerobic fitness, just by altering distances of the gates from the pitch we can affect each individual in our squad.

The players should understand the reasons why they are running different distances from your pre-season consultations and this can also add a competitive element in that each player will often strive to be moved up to the next distance. 

Once you have all the fundamentals in place, it is then up to you to be creative with your sessions and put your own spin on your practices.

Jordan McCann is head of sports science, fitness and conditioning at Luton Town. He is happy to receive any of your questions via email: JMcCannSportScience@gmail.com

Next week’s column: Factors affecting a player's match activity and how this impacts upon our programme design and implementation.



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