With Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra in extended lockdowns, I thought I would put together some lessons that we have picked up over the last 18 months on attempting to maintain a high level of training with restrictions in place. The first and most important thing to say is that there are many ways to address training, planning and structures so this is by no means a definitive answer to the difficulty of training in this situation, but hopefully it gives athletes and coaches an opportunity to explore the options available to them.
I don’t know about you, but for me there is a heaviness around extended lockdowns. The feeling of uncertainty and the knowledge that they may not end shortly puts everyone in a strange state of limbo and anxiety. The difficulty for athletes clearly lies in the uncertainty of the situation.
Will competition start and if so when? When can we train together as a group? Are we even going to have a season? What happens if I get stuck unable to travel or have to self isolate?
These are all valid and realistic questions. But they typically have no clear answer, leading to further anxiety if you spend too much time thinking about them. Something that I have been working on, particularly given I cannot see the majority of them in person has been setting the mindset associated with training in this environment.
- The first thing that has to be said is that this is going to be hard. I think this is obvious, but setting this expectation from the outset is important. It creates an environment in which the athletes dont expect at any point that this will be easy, nor is it likely to change any time soon.
- Another discussion is around using this time as your opportunity to develop. This may seem difficult to grasp for some with nothing coming up, but the discussion that we have consistently had is that this is an extended opportunity to expand our skills, develop physical capacities and work on areas that may require more time. This does not mean that we are not staying specific on our training, but we see it as an extended development period (like back to back preseasons). A major area that is developed in this situation is self evaluation. This situation provides athletes and coaches with reflection time on how they are performing when training and what needs to be communicated, as well as the best way to communicate that information (verbal, text, video).
- Openness to change. This means being open to opportunity, changes and learning. There are so many changes that occur in this landscape, timetables, restrictions rules, locations. So staying receptive to change and using it to your advantage helps enormously.
- Communication is everything. More than ever in this time it is easy to let things slide, so if you or the athletes are struggling with training, the situation or any other issues, communicating and working towards solutions to maximise on what they can do is much better than leaving communications unsaid.
Lack of access
Many of us are restricted by access to equipment and venues such as gyms, training venues or even to training partners. This in itself presents significant obstacles. But again how you approach this is key to getting through this period. I have to admit that more than ever the lack of access and equipment has forced me as a coach to evaluate my plan and work out what is important and what is not. It has also forced me to develop skills and exercises that drive learning when you are not there to instruct athletes. It has definitely been a strong driver for me to get much more creative in deciding how to approach skill and capacity development.
- Focus on what are the key elements that need to be developed and research different ways to develop what you are after. This may mean using different equipment, or it may mean speaking with other coaches or researching to understand how you can develop areas without the traditional access to equipment that you would have.
- Lack of access also means being willing to establish deeper review processes. This may mean discussing the session, reviewing and critiquing sessions and providing more opportunity to answer questions and provide education material that may not be needed when you are seeing the athletes every day.
With regards to programming the biggest areas have been communication and flexibility.
- Communication. When you are not seeing your athletes, there can be a lot lost in translation. So discussing with them openly and frequently what the goals, targets and execution points are important to be established before the athlete attempts a session. This extends to reviewing the sessions and the willingness to modify based on what they are saying.
- Flexibility. You are not there. So this one can be hard for control freaks like me, but this has been a big learning area of mine. In this situation training schedules need to be flexible, that may mean giving athletes ranges of volumes and intensities, or providing them with Plan A/B/C if they feel they are not up to completing a certain session on a particular day. I have found myself becoming less and less strict getting everything done that is written down on the piece of paper. This has continued even when I have been able to see the athletes, because the lockdowns have taught me that the internal reflection of the athletes should be trusted more and more, particularly if you have developed an ongoing working relationship with them over time.
I am sure that this has probably not addressed every area that is relevant to training in the lockdown climate but I hope it does help athletes and coaches with their process of navigating this time.