Monitoring and optimisation of training load should be based on knowledge about our players. Tests are necessary to get the knowledge - but test results alone are not enough. We must know how to analyse them and interpret the data generated based on them. The objective of monitoring is not only to check how many kilometres a player has made over a workout unit, but mostly to plan subsequent training stimuli and develop a personal approach to the players based on that information. We should, however, be aware that no diagram is able to replace a qualified training team and that the information will always be an addition to the work of a coach - it depends on our knowledge how important the addition is going to be.
Tests: knowledge about the players
As regards sports training monitoring, the first step to make is testing the players. There are various forms of tests. A beep test is a test that any coach can do at the junior level and on the border of amateur and professional games.
beep test allows to define the level a player's physical endurance as well as the training thresholds and heart rate zones to use at monitoring of their training. It can be easily performed and does not require any specialist equipment. A beep test can be performed in virtually any conditions - a football pitch, a running track, a sports hall etc. - and at every league level and its features are very similar to the specifics of football. The aforementioned zones and thresholds that you can set based on the maximum heart rate are the main information to use in subsequent training and load monitoring.
The beep test will be very useful in the future as well. You can perform it up to level 8 at any moment of the season, without interrupting the training microcycle. Heart rate analysis of individual stages allows to define the given player's progress compared to their previous year's test results. If their heart rate records are lower, it means that the player is better adapted to the training load. A higher heart rate would mean that the player is overloaded.
In our work with Górnik Zabrze Central Junior League team we use two forms of training monitoring. They include subjective judgement of the players' fatigue acquired using the Borg scale and data obtained from the players' heart rate diagram and GPS signal (Sonda Sports system).
Training: maximum stimulation to ensure development
We have to bear in mind that the objective of training is to stimulate players' physical effort to the maximum, taking into account their current level of fitness and fatigue. The objective is to adapt the load to the players individually, so that the training is challenging and stimulating to them, but at the same time the load is not excessive for their current fitness level. In order to develop the players' motor skills, they need to be adapted to increasing loads, but the loads need to be correctly adapted and periodised - which means different levels for specific groups of players. From now on, how do you use the data collected from beep tests, own knowledge of the given player and information from football training monitoring?
Of course you want to make training sessions as intense as possible so that the players remain close to the upper limit for as long as possible - but on the other hand, you also want them to quickly return to heart rate zone 2 or 3 after the explosive effort, so that they can regenerate. When monitoring sports training, the most important information is the time, in which a player's pulse returns to zone 2 or 3 after intense effort (i.e. after work in zone 4 or 5). This gives information about the player's current fitness level. The higher the rate, the lower the time needed to return to the lower zone and the better the adaptation to subsequent explosive efforts. Diagram of a player, who is in good form, is strongly "ragged" - it shows clearly the moments of intense workout (zone 4 and 5) intertwining with the periods, when the heart rate drops to zone 3 and 2 - e.g. breaks in the game - which allow the player to regenerate. On the other hand, a poorly adapted player's diagram might remain in zone 4 or 5 for the entire duration of a training unit or an individual part of the training.
Knowledge of your team is the basis for your actions
It is extremely important for a football coach to know their team well. It allows to define whether the training load is light, moderate or heavy for the specific player. Such information can be collected by way of analysis of blood samples collected during or after training. Unfortunately, few teams can afford such solutions. What can be of use here is collecting information on effort level based on Borg scale, but using the basic monitoring tools such as a player's heart rate. This is not an easy task. It requires time, observation and knowledge of the players.
It is impossible to provide training, which would have the same effect on all team players and provide them all with the same stimuli - that's why it is so important to adapt training units to individual players. Training periodisation is very important. The method developed by Verheijen, based on circuit training games complemented with specific running formats, is a good example of periodisation and is already widely used.
As regards monitoring and analysis of the aforementioned circuit training games - suppose that a game series lasted two minutes. The heart rate diagrams show that player 1 remained in high pulse zone - i.e. maintained training intensity - for the entire time, whereas in case of player 2 the intensity dropped after some time. This informs us that for player 1 the load was optimal, while player 2 needs shorter series as they are not able to maintain the proper intensity. Information on a player's rest between the series is another important detail collected from circuit training games monitoring. It allows to define whether a specific player is able to regenerate over a certain period. Based on the two indicators listed above you are able to adapt the length of the series and the period of rest between them.
After collecting the aforementioned information you are able to determine the so-called zero point of your player. You stimulate them and successively increase training load while ensuring that it is not too high and obtaining continuous feedback from the monitoring. Defining the zero point also allows to periodise the players - i.e. divide them into appropriate training groups depending on their adaptation and fitness level. This helps optimise their training level and adapt the load to the players' individual needs.
Monitoring of football training allows to keep working on each player's weaknesses and lets them catch up. Results of the players who need longer time to return to the lower zone and are unable to regenerate after explosive effort indicate that they lack oxygen efficiency, their threshold is lower, hence they need longer breaks between individual parts of training. While training such players you need to draw particular attention to supplementary oxygen training. On the other hand, players who are able to regenerate quickly and are resistant to high intensity training might be subject to more stimuli - higher loads.
GPS Sonda Sports system gives you a lot of information during training. During our work in Górnik it has drawn our attention to circuit training games - our main method of developing physical condition. Intensity of individual players was sufficient, but the amount of sprints and accelerations were not always satisfying for us. This information allowed us to apply additional running formats in the training sessions, complementing the amount of sprints and accelerations performed by the players during the training.
It is also important to capture when a player's tolerance for loads during training suddenly drops. If a player used to perform their tasks with a specific heart rate value and the value suddenly increases, this might mean that the player is exhausted at the moment. This is an alarm signal. On the other hand, it is possible that they become more resistant to the given exercise, which indicates their adaptation to the stimulus and is a signal that the stimulus might be increased.
Nothing can replace a coach.
Monitoring can only be effective if you can be sure that the analysed data are collected from a player, who is 100% committed to performing their tasks. Coaching and the attitude of the coach during training is important to ensure that. It is not worth to analyse and monitor training loads unless you are sure that the players work at their optimum capacity. No heart rate chart or GPS indicator is able to replace you - these are only tools helpful in everyday work of a training team.
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