Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday rant...

I like 'Physical Preparation Specialist/Coach' better than 'Strength and Conditioning Coach' since it is more general/broader definition compared to the latter which rings a bell in my mind of a guy who makes people go to the gym and do 300 yard shuttles until puking.

Physical Preparation is fundamental part of the athlete preparation on which all other preparation types build up (technical prep, tactical/decision making, strategy, mental/psychological, theoretical, etc) and it integral and un-separable part of overall preparations. Title 'Strength and Conditioning Coach' kinda puts a separation line between physical preparation and other forms of preparation, which is IMO wrong.

Training pyramid by Tudor Bompa

If you work outside of a club/college in your personal/private facility, then S&C coach might be decent name, but if you are involved in team/club settings, you are, or at least you should be more involved into other preparations and not only to making people lift weights and puke on field.

Fitness specialist coach is another title I don't like. What is fitness anyway? Aerobic capacity/power? Who knows and it reminds me on two things: pink dumbells and lab coating.

Performance Enhancement coach is recently developed. Isn't every coach Performance Enhancer? And it sounds so damn megalomaniac.

Please make no mistake, I am not saying that the title changes anything in your expertise.

My Five out of Five stars goes to Physical Preparation Coach or Specialist.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Interview with David Tenney

I must admit that David has a really good timing. He must have developed it in his soccer career - I am just packing to get back to Serbia and his interview is a great way to finish this American Story for 2010.

I've heard of David Tenney for the first time from my fellow coach and friend Joel Jamieson and I soon realized we share similar training philosophy. David raised a lot of eyebrows training-wise lately by critiquing too much  of glycolitic conditioning volume  in soccer and pointing to the importance of aerobic training, which got pretty bad rep lately especially from pro-interval  group of coaches. David's claims and training philosophy are backed-up by the success of his team Seattle Sounders FC, which won US Open Cup this season.

I am really thankful to David for taking his time to answer my questions over this email interview. Enjoy!

David Tenney is the first one from the right

MJ: First off congratulations on winning the US Open Cup with your team David. Second, thank you for your time to do this interview.  I know you have been busy lately preparing for the rest of the season. Can you please share some general info on who you are, what you do, and how did you come to be in the place where you are currently?

DT: Mladen, first of all, thank you for having me here. You have been at the cutting edge of performance training theory for the last couple years, so I am excited to be asked to do an interview with you. I am currently finishing my fourth year in MLS with the Seattle Sounders. Previously, I was in Kansas City, with the KC Wizards from 2007-2008. Originally, I was an ex-professional indoor soccer player from the Washington, DC area who worked at George Mason University (men’s and women’s soccer) and with the Washington Freedom women’s professional program before joining MLS in 2007. My background was previously as a sport coach of soccer. In 2004, I took the Czech Republic’s version of the UEFA ‘A’ license at Charles University in Prague, which really interested me in the sports science aspect of soccer. I ended up finishing my bachelor’s program (Coaching Science) and entering the master’s program (Fitness and Exercise Promotion) at George Mason following the course and slowly evolved into a “fitness coach” with all of the above soccer programs.

MJ: You played soccer yourself. How come you decided to go into strength and conditioning instead of trying to be soccer coach? In your opinion, is it necessary for strength and conditioning coach to have experience playing soccer to be working with soccer players? In my opinion, there is a huge difference between in-game knowledge and about-game knowledge. What do you think? Did your soccer background help you as strength and conditioning coach and in what way?

DT: I decided to go into the fitness/athletic development/strength & conditioning side because I saw a huge need in soccer for this type of position. I recognized that we had a French fitness coach, Pierre Barrieu, who was with the US National team, and there didn’t appear to be many Americans who were qualified and believable enough to work with high-level soccer coaches. It’s not necessary for an S & C coach to have played soccer at a decent level, but it does help. My background as a soccer player helps me because those who’ve played typically have a better feel for the exact demands of the sport. However, four years on from joining the league, there are some young fitness coaches in MLS now. Jeremy Holsopple with the NY Red Bull and Mike Tremble with the Columbus Crew are two young fitness coaches whose teams have done very well this season. They have done this without a huge “playing” background. Ultimately, it helps in your daily interaction with players and coaches if you have been there as a player, but it’s not a necessity. I think it’s most important to have had the experience of playing through your 20’s, and being around the “old pro” who may be in his 30’s. These are the tough guys to “sell” your program to, and will often decide whether or not a group buys into your work. The guy who goes into the sports performance field straight after a college playing career is not going to have that experience. Managing athletes late in their career in a team setting is possibly the most challenging part of the job, and an S & C coach needs to have the right feel for how hard and when to push such an athlete.

MJ: I’ll hit it straight to the point: you have probably noticed over-emphasis on glycolytic conditioning (300yard shuttles, HIIT, RSA) in contemporary training for sports. What is your opinion on this taking soccer into account? Are we neglecting aerobic training?

DT: Great question!! I do think that we have a lot of coaches who don’t really understand the physical demands of the sport, and thus, think that soccer is a very glycolytic sport with long bouts of anaerobic activity. I think the sport is very alactic-aerobic, where the goal should be to utilize the ATP-CP system as energy as often as possible for the short sprints required during the game. Then the athlete should be able to rely on the aerobic system to help replenish these ATP-CP stores, clear any lactate that may be building up within a muscle, and then provide as much energy as possible energy for 12-18km/hr medium-intensity speed that players must cruise around in during a game. If someone needs to rely on the glycolytic system as energy for this speed, then we are in trouble as we progress through a match. The more I delve into this alactic-aerobic idea, I am convinced that when many coaches program high volumes of glycolytic activity, the athletes WILL get a jump in their GPP, which may be mistakenly thought to be specific adaptations. We have college kids who can grind out multiple 300yd shuttles, meaning they can probably last through an insane college pre-season period. But, this doesn’t mean that they are specifically prepared to play soccer at a high level from a physical standpoint.

MJ: What about ‘real’ strength training? Soccer players are notorious for avoiding strength training, at least in Europe. What is your viewpoint on this, and do you manage to do it with the players in the amount you would like to?

DT: I am sure you know the European viewpoint very well. Most do not want to lift heavy weights. Our South American players are very similar. A couple things regarding this topic: (1) our off-season is longer than in Europe, so I try to use this period to have these athletes lift heavy, and get some true maximal strength work, (2) it doesn’t take much to see pretty big gains with these guys because they have never done such work. This season we have seen a big benefit from doing lots of single-leg work with a weight-vest, holding sand-bags or kettlebells. It’s about loading the players without them thinking they need to put a bar on their back.

MJ: How do you approach training in-season? This is a hot topic, since a lot of traditional training advices are based on sports with short competition period. How do you solve this problem? Do you ‘maintain’ or keep ‘pounding’? Can you please provide basic weekly template you do with one game per week?

DT: Agreed, most of the information in this country on how to periodize a training program for a team sport comes from coaches who normally deal with a 3-5 month regular season. We have an 8-month regular season, preceded by a 9-week pre-season preparation period. When the league first started we had ex-college coaches training teams that were flat and fatigued before the season even started! If you try to create a program that “peaks” a team for a certain part of the year, you can almost certainly expect that the group’s performance will drop in the 2-6 weeks following this peak. I think this is where the experience of the head coach and fitness/S & C coach really makes the difference. There will need to be “unloading” weeks put in at key points. There will also be natural “unloading” periods in a game schedule that a staff can use. If I were to give you a weekly template on what I think is a great weekly training model for an MLS team, I would say the following:

Saturday: Game day
Sunday: Off
Monday: Recovery/Regeneration day for those that played
Tuesday: Heaviest loading day of the week, small-sided high intensity (alactic or lactic) activities, with a second session in the weight room in the afternoon
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Larger number (oxidative/aerobic emphasis) tactical day with a warm-up period involving core stability, and either starting speed, reaction speed, or coordination
Friday: Pre-game, low volume training session (50-65min)
Saturday: Game Day

None of this is rocket science, but it is the very basic framework that we use to determine the overall loading for the team for that week.

MJ: What did you do to ‘peak’ for US Open Cup? Do you believe in peaking (or sport form/shape) for team sports like soccer?

DT: Is it possible to peak for a team sport where the season is as long as it is in soccer? I remember meeting with the coaching staff for Fiorentina in Italy a few years ago. Their opinion was that it was important to maintain 90-95% of maximal performance potential. They believed that this level could be maintained for long stretches of time. Now, how does one quantify maintaining “90-95%” of an athlete’s performance potential? I am not sure how well one can peak, but I do think that this type of schedule fits perfectly to utilize the Block Training System from Russian Sports Science. As for our Open Cup win, and the “peaking” we have done this season, we are finishing a 12-week phase where we have been playing twice a week for the entire time. I found that this phase has actually helped our fitness, because you end up working on a real “high-low” sequence of training during this period. With all the games, and enormous travel, we actually ended up fresher and fitter than if we would’ve had a Monday-Friday training schedule. This “forced” lightening of the training load seemed to really help in alleviating the residual fatigue that builds up.

MJ: You went to Europe for a while. Can you please explain the difference between soccer training there and in USA, both from physical preparation standpoint and from skill standpoint? How did this experience  influence your own philosophy?

DT: Great question, and one I have thought about very often. The biggest difference is actually that here in the US fitness and “mentality” seems to be the stress of many training programs, while Europe there seems to be a much great emphasis on skills. It’s related to the tempo of game that is being taught. Like in many things, the US seems to focus on playing this frenetic, frantic pace of a game, that one MUST be totally fit to keep up with. Our players are typically bigger and stronger than our European counterparts, and our volume of training is greater. Of course, all of this depends on the country in Europe you are using as a comparison. The Latin countries in Europe have a suppleness and smoothness to their training that we don’t have. This starts with the way we train our young players. We spend far more time in the weight room than almost every European country. Yet, here’s a question for you – I have been in MLS for four years now, and I have never had a European or South American diagnosed with a sports hernia, yet I have had plenty of Americans. Why? This must have something to do with the way we train our athletes. I don’t really think that the Europeans are selecting exercises we are not. I think that most of our US players in this league are really “grinders”, who got to a professional level through high volumes of sports specific training, and probably not enough of the “right” exercises in the weight room to counteract the negative compensatory effects through the pelvis of these high volumes of training. Europeans seem to have a much better “feel” for when to push and when to back off, except for some of the Northern European countries, who have a similar mentality to the US.

MJ: I see a lot of coaches calling themselves strength and conditioning coaches while only working with the players in the gym in the off-season. What is the difference between this ‘personal’ strength and conditioning and ‘real’ strength and conditioning while being part of the coaching staff in a pro club? What are the pros and cons and how does this change your training philosophy? What additional skills are necessary to succeed in the latter situation?

DT: Many people mistakenly think that a strength coach in soccer mainly works in the gym. One of the reasons my title is “fitness coach” rather than “strength coach” is that 90% of my job takes place outside of the gym. I would say THE most important part of my job is the work I do together with the head coach in determining the weekly loading for the team training. In that respect, the work we do in the gym is just one small component of that. What good is periodization in the gym, if it’s not being used to match the work being done on the field? Of course, there are members of the staff who try to minimize the importance of what we do in the gym. That’s the negative of my job – there are times that some thing makes perfect sense to me training-wise from a physiological perspective, yet I am the only coach who may be in favor of doing something that specific way. It’s important that I am believable to the rest of the staff when I feel that we need to alter something within our training schedule due to over- or under-training. So, in that respect, I really have one foot in as a sport-coach, and one foot in as a strength/fitness coach. It helps that I am really seen, by both staff and players as just another assistant coach. If I was seen as just a “strength coach” who only worked in the weight room, I don’t think I would have the ability to shape people’s beliefs towards how we train and work.

MJ: Soccer in USA is getting better and better. In your opinion what should change in the USA soccer to bring it to even higher level?

DT: I agree that soccer has developed to a good level in this country. Our performance at two of the last three World Cups has shown that. However, there are still some real areas that we lag behind our South American and European competition. I think that if you look at the average high school age or college game, it’s an overly physical battle. The sport is really a game of rhythm, in which a team needs to be able to move through the different speeds quickly. Watch Messi play and you will see that. It’s about lulling your opponent to sleep, then, BANG, going in for the kill. The American game is about trying to play at a frantic speed for as long as possible. At times, it looks like uncontrolled chaos. When we start to get coaches that can slow the game down a bit, so players can think, then we will make progress. From the fitness standpoint, I think we are burning out many good young players because our volume of training and games for the 16-18 year old is just too high. We have created a system where it’s the “grinders” that make it through to the next levels, and the more creative, smaller kids sometimes get left by the wayside by those in charge. Some kids are left out because they are not “big enough or strong enough”, while others are left out because we place such high physical demands on them, that some technical, but under-developed kids may break down. Look at the Spanish team that won the World Cup, guys like David Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, etc. are these slight, quick little players who don’t look physically imposing, but can dominate the tempo of the match.

To be dangerous you don't need to be big

MJ: You are big on using OmegaWave. Can you please explain the readers what is OmegaWave, how and when do you use it, and how do you modify training load based on the results? What other monitoring you do?

DT: OmegaWave is a device created by a group of Russian sports scientists and engineers designed to give an immediate evaluation of the functional state of an athlete. The technology gives you feedback on the state of the cardiac, metabolic, CNS, and hormonal systems, as well as recommendations for training for that day. Like anything else, it is a tool, and must be used in conjunction with everything else in your toolbox. We use it early in each training week to get a sense of the “team wide” level of fatigue. Much of whether our week becomes a low, medium, or heavy loading week will be determined by the outcomes of these tests. Our players also wear the Polar T2 monitors for each session. I give our coaching staff a recommended “training load” count calculated by Polar, that we should hit as a team average to keep the appropriate loading.

OmegaWave is a tool in your toolbox

MJ: For the last question, I would love to know which books and resources you find very influential on your training philosophy and what do you suggest as a must read/have? Which ones you consult most frequently?

DT: Where I stand right now, I consider Viru’s Adaptations in Sports Trainings as indispensable reading for anyone in sports science. I think Joel Jamieson’s Ultimate MMA Conditioning discusses the implementation of these similar training principles in a very practical way. In terms of research, I have found that the latest issues of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports  to be ahead of many other research journals in the depth of what they are investigating.

MJ: Thank you for this great interview David.

DT: Thank you too Mladen for great questions and have a safe flight back home 

Is taking a false step a bad idea? ADDENDUM

I just wanted to add one very dramatic example of context dependence of false step that cost my country entering the finals in Basketball World Championship in Turkey 2010. Since the Championship was held in Turkey, officials were biased.

Anyway, starting from 5:22 in the video below, at the very end of this game Turkish player receives a ball close to the sideline and start dribbling toward the basket, but as he accelerated he did false step (plyo-step) and evidently stepped outside of bounds and committed foul (which was overseen by referees)

I bet officials did a lot of errors on Turkish side too and it is too late to bitch about it, thus I am not using this video to bitch for this loss of Serbian National Team, but rather describe the situation where the 'natural' occurrence of false step is clearly against the rules of the game. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is taking a false step a bad idea?

Coaches call it 'false step' and preach that the first step when starting/accelerating should always be step forward. Lee Taft calls it "Plyo Step":

Is the mentioned point stance  complete B.S., and should we correct this and punish the players for doing it?

Although I have already covered some information on the plyo step in my final paper Training and Testing Agility in Sports (in Serbian language) I will share three supporting research papers that are supportive of plyo step.

Kraan, G.A., van Veen, J., Snijders, C.J., Storm, J. (2001). Starting from standing; why step backwards? Journal of Biomechanics, 32:211-215.

At push-off, the mass centre of gravity of the body must be positioned in front of the foot to prevent a somersault. When starting a sprint from out the standing position the use of a step backwards is necessary for maximal acceleration. The aim of the present study was to quantify the positive contribution to push off from a backward step of the leg, which seems to be counterproductive. Ten subjects were instructed to sprint start in three different ways: (a) starting from the standing position just in front of the force platform on the subject's own initiative, (b) starting from the standing position on the force platform with no step backward allowed, and (c) starting out of the starting position with one leg in front of the force platform and the push-off leg on the force platform. A step backwards was observed in 95% of the starts from the standing position. The push-off force was highest in starting type (a), which had the shortest time to build up the push-off force. The results indicate a positive contribution to the force and power from a step backwards. We advocate developing a training program with special attention to the phenomenon step backwards.

Brown, Todd D., Vecovi, Jason D. Is stepping back really counterproductive? Strength & Conditioning Journal. 26(1):42-44, February 2004.

Recent research has indicated the paradoxical step back when accelerating creates a greater impulse, provides more horizontal power, and results in superior displacement compared to the drop-and-go technique. Therefore, stepping back should be considered an essential element when training acceleration.

Johnson, TM, Brown, LE, Coburn, JW, Judelson, DA, Khamoui, AV, Tran, TT, and Uribe, BP. Effect of four different starting stances on sprint time in collegiate volleyball players. J Strength Cond Res 24(10): 2641-2646, 2010.

Starting stance plays an important role in influencing short-distance sprint speed and, therefore, the ability to reach a ball during sport play. The purpose of this study was to evaluate 4 different starting stances on sprint time. Twenty-six male and female collegiate volleyball players volunteered to participate in 1 testing session. Each subject performed 3 15-ft sprint trials at each of 4 different starting stances (P-parallel, FS-false step, S-staggered, and SFS-staggered false step) in random order. Analysis of variance revealed that there was no significant interaction of sex by stance, but there were main effects for sex (men were faster than women) and stance. The FS (1.18 ± 0.10 seconds), S (1.16 ± 0.07 seconds), and SFS (1.14 ± 0.06 seconds) stances were faster than the P (1.25 ± 0.09 seconds) stance, and the SFS stance was faster than the FS stance. This indicates that starting with a staggered stance (regardless of stepping back) produced the greatest sprinting velocity over the initial 15 feet. Although taking a staggered stance seems counterproductive, the resultant stretch-shortening cycle action and forward body lean likely increase force production of the push-off phase and place the total body center of mass ahead of the contacting foot, thereby, decreasing sprint time

Anyway, should we always use plyo step when accelerating? Why aren't Olympic sprinters using it if it is faster? The answer is again - IT DEPENDS. 

Sprinters are using staggered stance in blocks because this allows them the optimal biomechanical position to express maximum propulsive force. Although the last quoted research stated that the false step staggered stance achieved better sprint times than staggered stance, we are here talking about collegiate volleyball players. It takes practice to master sprint start (although they didn’t use blocks) and it doesn’t mean that something that is better “right off the bat” is better in long term. It takes time and practice.

But can this same thing be said for plyo step? Would athletes get better times if they try to avoid false step when accelerating from standing position? I guess we need longitudinal study (where athletes actually train to start from a certain stance) instead of cross studies cited, but anyway I don’t think so. When starting from standing parallel position (athletic stance), plyo step will always produce better sprint times then trying to forcefully (voluntarily) take first step forward. This is because false step puts the body into the position where the force vector (Ground Reaction Force - GRF) has higher propulsive component due the origin of the GRF which is behind the body center of mass (COM) compared to parallel stance where GRF origin is underneath COM (where the athlete must to pull himself instead of push himself which is more powerful).

Taken from Speed-Strength Training Basics by Derek Hansen

But, should athletes always do a plyo step when starting from standing parallel position? Me and my fellow coach Ognjen Milić had a huge argument with one tennis coach when we worked at TK Banjica in Belgrade. This coach was telling us that the false step is "bad" when the athlete reaches to intercept the ball (he showed us a couple of variations of lunges to prepare for backhand/forehand) and we were trying to explain him that plyo step is "normal" when  the athlete suddenly needs to sprint toward the net. We were going back and forth showing the examples from tennis matches and accusing each other for being ignorant.  
Do you see the difference here? We were talking about two different things, where the task goal is different. The first one is to get to an optimal position for backhand/forehand (basically intercepting action where time to contact can vary) and the second one is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. When you have enough time (time to contact in this case) you are not in a "rush" to reposition your body to a good posture to deliver technical skill, but when you are pressed for time and you need to react to a specific stimulus your body will do the most normal/natural thing. 

This same discussion can be expanded toward cross-over start in dribbling the basketball (crossover dribble), where the first  step is forward and ‘cross’  (step across) to put the leg between and body between the defender and the ball. So, we are talking about different task goals. Again context dependent.

To conclude: should we correct the players when they do the false step when accelerating from standing staggered/parallel stance with the aim to cover certain distance in the least amount of time (read carefully since I put an effort  to define the task goal – context)? No. Should all acceleration from standing position including technical skill involve the false step? Again the answer is no. In some situations false step is justified as long as there is time pressure (as fast as possible) and no breaking of basic technical and tactical (conceptual) principles of a certain sport/motor pattern.

When we neglect the context we can make false dogmatic claims. Watch for it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sport Form

I decided to re-publish  this older article (which is actually a translation of the chapter from the book by my professor Vladimir Koprivica) from 2006 on Sport Form with minor changes due the fact that lately I've lost my writing mojo
This article was published on Power Development IncEliteFTS and Reactive Strength Training websites. I glanced through it and corrected some sentences as much as I could, so please bear with bad English (this was wrote in 2006 when I just stared writing in English).

The Sport Form Phenomena

As an active member of various sport discussion forums, and a reader of a lot of webpages and blogs, I noticed that the „westerns“ aren't familiar with the concept of sport form. When I say „aren’t familiar“ I don’t mean they didn’t experienced it, but they rather lack the knowledge and experience identifying and controlling it.

Every coach knows that it is impossible that their players perform at their top shape for prolonged period of time without over-burning, injuries and lack of motivation which finally result in fall of their performance. Some coaches have developed excellent methods and principles in planning and programming of athlete preparation process (which consist of training, competition and recovery which is in most cases under-appreciated part) taking into consideration this phenomena. They maybe call this phenomena with different names, but in Eastern Europe it is called sport form!

There are two types of sport form: individual and team sport form. Individual sport form is most noticeable and the easiest to control, but team sport form is very hard to control, but in the same time, if you currently suck as a player, your teammates can cover your ass, so basically, team form is bigger then the sum of individuals sport forms, making it more complex. More on this topic later.

            Russians have made a huge effort exploring and controlling this phenomena. Note that they didn’t invented it, they explored it (same as Mount Everest – it is not invented, it is discovered, but it was there all the time where it is still now). As stated before, this doesn’t mean that a lot of coaches aren’t familiar with it, just they are not familiar with the research done by the Russians, which in turn can help them to
  1. Identify the state of sport form
  2. Predict the behavior and results of their athletes on major competitions
  3. Control sport forms, and as a result control performance of their athletes
  4. Improve their planning and programming of athlete preparation process and thus increase their performance when it counts the most

For this very reasons, I find that it is very important that „western“ coaches (and the gross of our own European coaches) familiarize with the sport form phenomena and its impact on performance, planning and programming of athlete preparation process which in turn can help them to create better players and better results at the most important competitions.

I would like to notice, that I am not an expert on this subject, and I don't find myself an authority to talk about it. For this very reason, I am very glad that I have a permission from my teacher and mentor prof. Vladimir Koprivica to translate a whole chapter from his outstanding textbook for our Training Theory course.


Sport form is a term that is very often used in scientific and expert literature, news, radio and TV reports, in the discussion between experts, coaches and athletes. Most of them, without regard on their expertise, can evaluate whether some athlete or team is in the state of sport form or not, but only very versed experts know the principles of its development, its phases, durations, components, and which is most crucial, can manage/control sport form and predict its course. 

            What is sport form? One consider it is just one moment in the athlete’s career, when he reach his maximum/best result(s); second consider it as a state of preparedness that allows successful performance on competitions; third as a state of athlete in one period when he attain high and stable results etc. Most of experts accept that sport form is the state of the optimal preparedness for a sport achievements which athlete attain with adequate preparation on each new level of sport perfection. So, sport form is a state of optimal (best) preparedness, but in the same time it is a process, because it changes during athlete’s career parallel with sport improvements with each individual. Simply stated, we must differ sport form in pioneer, cadet, junior and senior stages of athletes career, because every following stage represents its bigger level. With the consideration of sport form definition, it is clear that it is not correct to state that athlete or team is in „bad, poor form“. So, athlete or team ARE or ARE NOT in the state of sport form. 

To be in the state of sport form, and in the right time, is the most crucial task  which should be solved during training process by coach and athletes! Only if they successfully solve this tasks, athletes can achieve adequate, desirable and planned result. Majority of athletes during the season (year) accomplish to achieve the state of sport form, but only the minority of them achieve it at the right time – during the  most important competitions of the season. Unfortunately, some athletes do not achieve neither situation, so according to competition point of view, it is a lost year. Exception to this is when elite athletes who purposely set their year training plan and competition calendar, to allow rest and recovery after multi-year hard training and competitions (for example it the year following Olympic games) .

Primary criteria by which sport form is evaluated is the results on the competitions.  Competition is the best test, because it integrates all the components of sport form. In the sport branches, in which the result is objectively measured (for example in meters or seconds) this is relatively easy to do. Prominent soviet athlete, coach and scientist, Bondarchuk, have recorded daily results of hammer throwers which he coached, and by using this method he managed to track down and control their sport form. It is well know what results were achieved by his athletes on major competitions. However, in gross of sport branches (for example in sport games, martial arts, sport gymnastic etc) evaluation of sport form is substantially complex, because along with numerous external factors, result depends also on the quality of sport opponents. In this case, the most reliable evaluation of sport form of the athlete or team can give coach (or couple of them). However, this can be also done by experienced athletes.

One renowned soccer player is asked how does he know is he in the state of sport form or not.

If I am not in the state of sport form during a game I got only one solution. When I am in the state of sport form – I got three.“ – he responded
But what if the opponent reads all three of them?“ – he was asked again
Well, in that case he receives a goal, because then I do very unexpected move and  pass the ball to my team player, so he has a easy chance to score!

            From this short, but comprehensive, interview, couple of conclusions can be carried out. It should be emphasized that athlete who is in the state of sport from is able to be creative, to create and display  what is later remembered, described and retailed. Beside that, athlete function at the level which is not otherwise accessible to him, he train with such an ease, he easily withstand great physical efforts and solve technical/tactical tasks, he recover quickly, it is very motivated, wish to compete and believe in his own possibilities, he believe in success. 

            Basic components of sport form are physicaltechnicaltactical and psychological (mental) preparedness. Beside them, pedagogical (educational/theoretical) preparedness is usually mentioned.  If those mentioned components are on necessary level, it can be said that the athlete or team is in the state of high readiness.

            It is not a question that high level of preparedness is a basic requirement of sport form. However, sport form and high level of preparedness should not be identified as synonyms. Some athletes or teams can be very well physically, technically, tactically and psychologically prepared, but without being in the state of sport form. Preparedness is the fundamental of sport form, but the state of sport form requires harmony and integration of all of its components. This unity is achieved through competitions, and because of that there is the axiom: There is no sport form without competitions! A lot of elite coaches have such a system of preparations for most important competitions (for example Olympic games) in which they prepare their athletes with participation on numerous competitions.

            Under all normal training and life conditions of an athlete, the level of preparedness, during a short period of time, cannot be substantially changed.  However, athletes often, within very short period of time (for example 7 days) perform very differently: once they perform outstanding and once very poorly. What is the matter, athletes and coaches often question. It is evident that there happened breaking down of harmonic relation between components of sport form or the operative components have changed, which are in contrast to level of preparedness very accessible/liable for faster changes. They happen to be in the realm of psychological (mental) preparation. For example, it is very hard to maintain athlete’s motivation and concentration for every subsequent competition. It is well know that the biggest fear of coaches in team sports (games) are those matches that are „won in advance“. And chess players says that it is the most hardly to win „the game already won“. Beside that, perturbed athlete-athlete, athlete-coach, management-coach, management-athlete etc. relations can also perturb/violate the sport form or even to disable athletes to reach it during the season. In that situation, change of coach (which is mostly done), or some other change,  may sometimes positively affect on the fast re-establishment of the sport for, if the last coach was done a good job on athlete preparation. New coach – „miracle maker - miraculous“, in short period of time cannot substantially improve the level of athlete preparedness (sport form fundamental is built very  long, slowly and patiently) but he can bring the operative components on the necessary level and re-establish their harmonically relation. If the athletes are „uncared – rusty“, or in other word very poorly prepared, the miracles don't happen, apropos, it is impossible to quickly achieve desirable results.  There is a need for great patience, great knowledge even an intuition to bring everything in order. To new coach, beginning of work in the middle of the season is incomparably harder than at the beginning of preparation period, so experienced coaches very carefully chose this options, because the risk is great. In those cases, the basic orientation must be the selection of the most important factors of sport results in concrete sport branch and very directed, carefully dosaged, specialized work. Solving of the larger number of training tasks, typical for preparation period, requires a lot of time, and as a rule, there isn't much of it.

            Every sport branch have differently ranked factors that determine success in it. In cyclical sport branches, like cycling, long distance running, rowing etc., dominant factor of success is appropriate type of endurance, while the tactics contribute much more less. In team sport games or in martial arts, tactics is very important and have equal significance with other important factors (physical, technical and psychological preparedness). In some sport branches, the most important factor is sport technique (skill) etc. Sport form depends on the level of dominant factors, so their development should have great attention in training process.

            It has been noticed that sport form have phasing (cyclical) character. There are three phases that could be identified:

  1. Phase of entrance into the sport form,
  2. Phase of maintenance (relative stability) of sport form and
  3. Phase of temporary lost of sport form.

In phase one, emphasis is on the development of  sport form fundamental, from which quality depends sport form level. In the beginning, with more volume, there is a separately development of physical and technical/tactical qualities of the athlete, but with progression they are more and more incorporated into competition exercises (for example, soccer players play on two goals, judo and karate fighters sparr and fight etc.) Phase of entrance into the sport form lasts differently and it is often dependent on the competition calendar. If it lasts shorter, the shorter will be also the second phase – phase of sport form maintenance. Because of this, strenuous specific work, with larger relative volume of competition exercises in overall volume of training process, can relatively quickly introduce athletes into the state of sport form, but then we cannot count on its longer maintenance. This method is justifiable in the case where the competition season begins with the series of very important competitions, like qualification matches for the European championships in team sport games. In opposite situation, if the major competitions start later in the season, it could easily happen that in the beginning of competition season, athlete (or team) perform very successfully on less important competitions, but perform poorly on the major ones. It is common that among ones that have trained „like never before“, sport form is „depleted“ during the preparatory period and during couple of opening  official competitions, and after that there is only precipitous fall, which is very hard to stop.

From the above written, it can be clearly seen that the phase of entrance into the sport form coincide with preparatory period. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If the coach really control the sport form, depending on the competition calendar, coach can extend the entrance phase on the first part of competition period. In this case, first matches have purpose of preparation and control and lead athletes to higher level of sport form. But, because in some sport branches the points are given on this competitions, this approach have certain risk. Reasonable coaches and athletes know that it is unavoidable to sometime loose on less important competitions to achieve master goal later. There are well know reversed situations from sport practice, where coaches and athletes „attack“ the less important records, that are measured only by statistics, and then „unfortunately“ loose important trophy from objectively inferior opponents.

Determination of the main goal in the season, requires realistic assessment and evaluation of athlete or team capabilities. Athletes of lower level, should pursuit their chance on less important competitions, when they should plan the sport form. It is realistic to assume, that those competitions will have a preparative purpose for elite athletes, and this means it is possible to win them. However, in team sport games, where the point are given on each competitio, this orientation (to win the best for any cost) can be fatal. There is an example of soccer team, rookies in the the first league, who made a series of result surprises. It had a positive point score with the members of „great fours“ – and felt out of the league! On their home games, they lost every game with direct rivals for the league survival, and this lost could not be compensated with the success against better opponents.

The second phase of sport form is also usually called  the phase of relative stability, because the athlete results principally oscillate. It is considered that athletes in cyclical sport branches  (except long distance runners) are in the state of sport form if they achieve results not less than 98%, and that cyclical speed-strength athletes 95-97% of their best result. In the best case, the athlete achieve his best result, best game, best match on the most important competition. It happens that a large number of athletes  achieve their best performances after main competitions, or that team, after a series of matches, thanks to them, enter the state of sport form, but when is already late. Coaches, who are not familiar with principles of sport form development, often state for the news papers that it is pity that the championship is finished, because his team is just now in the state of sport form. Those coaches does not control the processes of sport form development, but it appears beside their will, and as a rule of the thumb, in most unimportant time.

Second phase of sport form usually coincide with competition period. First problem appears if the competition period lasts long, because sport form can only last for 2-2,5 months. For this very reason periodization of sport training is justifiable with two or more shorter competition periods, with in-between rest vital for athlete regeneration and their preparation for second part of competitions. Second problem arises when there are two important parallel competitions, which is the case with cup competitions and regular championship in team sport games. Preparations for cup competitions disturb regular preparations for matches, and put the coach in the dilemma what should be appropriate goal.  Similar problem are preparations for play-off.

It was already emphasised that there is no sport form without competitions, but in the same time competitions „deplet“ sport form. Too much of competitions can negatively influence sport form.

Third phase – the phase of temporary sport form lost principally appears. Sport form is impossible to keep for a prolonged period of time, because for the first reason, to allow athletes to achieve greater level in the following cycle, it is essential to „break-up“ old sport form and build a new one. As a second reason, it is not possible for the organism/body to constantly adapt, during a prolonged period of time, to constant great requests, because this road lead right to over training. Besides that, constant appearance of the same, or similar training or competition content lead to psychological (mental) fatigue. Athletes become anxious, they lost their desire to train and compete, they are hardly motivated, they fatigue much quicker, they fail to solve technical/tactical tasks, they complain about fatigue and insomnia etc. These are all signs of overtraining and unless they are significantly pronounced, the athlete state is reversible and will not going to leave health or sport (results) consequences.

            Someone may ask how come that there are elite athletes that wins most of time. Are they all the time in the state of sport form? Answer should be primary looked/searched in their great talent and hard work, but also in relatively poorer opponents, and because of that, without being in the state of sport form they are capable to win the gross number of their rivals.
            The best world athletes, which have competitions during the whole year (particularly tennis players), prepares from competition to competition mainly using specific exercises and carefully choosing competitions in which they will take a part – apropos, they them self (with coach) create their own personal competition calendar and plan sport form during the season.
We should differ between individual and team sport form.  It is much easier to control individual sport form, because in training process it is possible to individually dosage load,  to regulate relationship between volume and intensity, ratio between general preparation, specific preparation and competition exercise, precision control of the effects of applied training and competition loads etc. However, errors in training process can be hardly corrected. In team sport games, sport form of a team is not a simple summation of individual sport forms.  Team is not the collection of best individuals, but rather a union of individuals that best function as a team. And from this comes, in most cases, understanding of coaches decisions to keep the best player in reserve.   Coach, in team sport games, have an option to substitute the player which is not in the state of sport form with one that is. With this method, it is possible to extend team sport form. With the relation with already mentioned, it is possible to draw one more conclusion: it is possible that team, during a season, because of disharmonious interrelations among athletes, don't event enter the state of sport form  or to be in it for very short. 

            It is very interesting question what should be the guide for a team games coach in planning of the sport form in advance. All of the team members (athletes), are not equally important in this case. Coach should be oriented on those individuals who are the main „carriers“ of major competition load and should control the sport training to allow them to reach state of sport form in the right time, because this is the best guarantee of sport success.

Athlete who is in the state of sport form, can be easily recognized according to following signs:

  1. Quickly and easily starts training session, he easily withstand training loads, especially often changes in intensity;
  2. He is able to perform a specific muscle work on a such high level of strength, speed, endurance and dexterity/coordination/agility  which is not available to him when he is not in the state of sport form;
  3. He is very economic in training, or in other words, he spend much less energy for the same work;
  4. He function at higher level of technical/tactical preparedness; without any problems and very rationally uses all the „arsenal“ of skills he poses;  He  easily switch from one exercise to another and improvise in training and in competition; he make much less errors;
  5. Faster new skill acquisition;
  6. After the training and competition, his body functions recover much faster:
  7. Athlete is in positive emotional state, he got very pronounced desire for exercising, he is in „fighting“ mood, he believes in it own abilities and wish/desire to compete and
  8. Attain better results.

This was the translation of whole chapter regarding sport form, from pages 79. -85. in

Koprivica, V.J. (2001). Osnove sportskog treninga. I deo. Izdanje autora. Beograd.

Literature from the book
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  3. Lazarević, Lj.: Psihološka priprema sportista , Fakultet fizičke kulture, Beograd, 1994
  4. Malacko, J.: Osnove sportskog treninga, Izdanje autora, Novi Sad, 1991.
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  6. Najšteter, Đ.: Teorija i metodika sportskog treninga, Fakultet za fizičku kulturu. Sarajevo, 1991
  7. Платонов, В. Н.: Адаптация в спорте, Здоров'я, Киев, 1988.
  8. Платонов, В. Н.: Теория спорта, Вища школа, Киев, 1987.
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  10.  Желясков, Ц.: Теория и методика на спортната тренировка, Медицина и физкултура,      София, 1986.