Monday, July 2, 2007

Prepare Yourself to Be the Winner

To Win, You Must Prepare Yourself to Be the Winner – Not Simply To “Do My Best"
By Bruce Tulloh
From Peak Performance
Winning an event depends as much on the opposition as it does on you, but you cannot do anything about them - the only one you can do anything about is yourself. As a coach I continually see people under-performing due to lack of proper preparation. They have plenty of talent but they are often at peak fitness at a time when it is not necessary and injured or burnt out when the big day comes along. Even when they have got it right physically they fail to get the result they could because they have not prepared themselves to be the winners but merely to 'do my best'. Sometimes this attitude works, but usually only once. The bigger the event, the more likely it is to go to someone who has been expecting to win and who has trained him or herself to cope with all the demands that winning entails. This clearly involves mental as well as physical preparation. Here are the 10 key points that have to be covered.

1. Planning - Working back from the date of the big event, you must pencil in the other vital dates, such as qualifying competitions, selection dates and championships. There will be some dates on which you simply cannot train because of travelling or because they fall too close to the important competitions. This long-term plan should extend over at least six months but preferably over a full year.

2. Periodisation - I hate this word but I can't do without it. Once the important events have been put on to the master plan, you have to decide how many peak competitive periods you wish to have in the year. Each of these will require a build-up phase, a pre-competition phase and a tapering phase. Nobody can remain at peak competitive level indefinitely, and if it is necessary to maintain this for more than six weeks at a stretch, there must be further planning to allow for recuperation.

3. Progress - Within each training phase there must be a built-in structure of progress. In the build-up phase, this will be both in the overall quality of the training and in the proportion of high-quality training, ie, from one hard day a week to three or four. In the pre-competition phase, the progression will be in the intensity of the training; if one was doing a session of 15 x 400 metres, with a 60 second recovery, the average speed will go faster every two weeks. In the tapering phase, the emphasis will be on the specificity and the timing of the training sessions in relation to the competition.

4. Range - In some sports, training consists entirely of practising the event, but in the performance-related sports such as athletics and rowing it has been proved that better results can be obtained by building up the different components of the sport - endurance capacity, muscle strength, lactic acid tolerance and oxygen intake - by specific activities, and then combining them in the actual event practice. For each sport one must break down the particular demands on the system and then look for ways in which these can be trained for. Very few sports do not rely at least partly on pure muscular strength and so weight training for the specific muscle groups must be used.Similarly, aerobic capacity comes into all but the most explosive events and is capable of great improvement. It must be borne in mind that the modem sportsman or woman has to cope not merely with the once-a-week event but often mid-week events or events which last several days, with qualifying rounds. This means that extra endurance training must be done.

5. Avoiding injury - This becomes more and more important as the athlete reaches a higher level because he or she is working closer to their maximum. It is done by balancing very carefully the proportion of hard and easy work in the programme. This is where close monitoring is necessary, both by the coach and by the athlete. The art of coaching lies in knowing how hard you can push an athlete without going over the red line into the excessive fatigue which leads to illness and injury. The older I get, the more careful I become in advising rest and in seeing a physiotherapist at the first sign of an injury. One day missed through over-caution is easily made up, but a week or two missed from trying to 'train through' an injury can be serious.

6. Specificity - It makes sense to mimic as closely as possible the stresses of the competition in the training process, once the athlete is strong enough to handle it. When Richard Nerurkar was training for the 1991 World Championships we knew almost a year in advance that there were only 48 hours between the heats and the final of the 10,000 metres. As part of the pre-competition training we therefore worked to a programme of two hard days out of three and even included two 1O,OOOm time trials, with a 48 hour gap, about three months beforehand. Although in the early stages, training may last for several hours a day, as the competition gets nearer one must get used to concentrating the effort into the same space of time as the competition.

7. Acclimatisation - More and more international competitions are being held in hot conditions, and if two athletes are equal in ability the one who is properly acclimatised will beat the one who is not. In my view, something between seven and 14 days is necessary to adjust to a different climate, and this will also be long enough to adjust to any time change. Monitoring the athlete's body weight and resting pulse on a daily basis will tell the coach when equilibrium has been reached (though, of course, the coach will need to know the normal fluctuations at home, which should be recorded in the athlete's training log).

8. Mental training - The athlete must get used to winning. I have read that winning an event actually raises the testosterone level - certainly there is a synergistic effect, particularly in team events. It makes sense, therefore, to plan the domestic season so that the athlete starts by winning minor events and then goes on to bigger ones. However, he must also be able to lose without it destroying his confidence. The athlete who cannot handle a defeat is not a complete athlete. Someone who expects to win, who feels that he or she ought to win, is less likely to give way under pressure than someone who merely hopes to win. The most useful tool in building this attitude is rehearsal of all the possible scenarios. In a long- distance race, this will include running from the front, closing a gap when somebody has gone out too fast, and putting in a strong finishing burst. It is obviously closely linked to my last two points.

9. Analysing the event - The more you know about the nature of the event, the better you will be able to handle it. For a long-distance race, we would like to know exactly where the hills are, what the going is like, what the weather will be, and whether there are any peculiar features such as very sharp bends, Wherever possible, we look at the course well in advance so that we can go through mental rehearsals of running a winning race. If there are likely to be any problems over travelling, feeding or getting accommodation, these must be thought through well in advance so that the athlete is not worried about them.

10. Race tactics - Just as you need a plan for your training, you must also have a winning plan for the event. This means that you must know the opposition and what they are likely to do. You must have a response to deal with each situation. You must know your own strengths and weaknesses and when you have made your plan you must be able to carry it out under pressure. This is the hardest part. If, for example, you have decided that the best place to strike in a 10,000m race is with seven laps to go because that is a point where people are feeling bad, you must not be put off by the fact that you too are feeling bad. It always comes down to a battle of wills, and you will be the winner if you have built yourself to a point where you will not accept defeat.

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