“While an athlete’s reaching or exceeding individual performance aims and helping the team achieve its goals is fantastic in one sense, it’s completely undermined if this athlete is ruin in the process.” – Fergus Connolly
In the last few weeks I have slowly been making my way through Fergus Connolly’s new book Game Changer, which has been an outstanding read. One topic that really struck a nerve with me was the topic of health when it comes to student athletes. As Fergus states and something that I completely agree with is that health has to come before performance.
In my opinion, if there is one common denominator to success in sports it is that athlete health. Without a doubt, health is the single most important factor to success not only for the team but for individual athletes – it is hard to win important games when a key player or key players are sitting on the sidelines.
This is not to say that if a team is perfectly health throughout the entire competitive season that the team will have guaranteed success, but it is close to a guarantee that if a team is missing various players or certain key players that winning is going to be more challenging.
As a coach you have to have an understanding of the stress that you and all their other responsibilities as a student-athlete are placing on them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. You can’t put athletes through high intensity sessions day in and day out and then wonder why they are broken down and/or tired all the time.
For example, our women’s hockey team has been reporting that they are very tired and a little run down over the course of the last 7-10 days. We have had very little injuries up until this point…then within a 48 hour span we had two groin strains. Neither of these issues have kept the athletes off the ice or are major in any way, but I found it interesting that both happened at essentially the same time and when many athletes were reporting being somewhat run down.
At first I looked at the volume/intensity of their on ice sessions…very similar to what they were experiencing in the weeks prior. I then looked at the volume/intensity of the work they were putting in during their off ice sessions. Again, the loads were consistent with previous weeks and not out of the norm or over the top by any means.
It then dawned on me that we are in the middle of mid-terms. The athletes have had increased demands and pressure through studying for all of their upcoming mid-term exams or putting the finishing touches on their mid-term papers. School, nothing hockey related, is currently adding a lot more stress to their system. As coaches, we have to remember that stress is stress – the body can’t and doesn’t differentiate between stressors.
As a result, we had to make some minor changes to our off ice sessions during this time to make sure we don’t ask too much of the athletes – health was put ahead of performance. Could we have pushed through what we originally had planned? Sure. Would we have stayed health? Maybe, maybe not – we have no way of knowing. But the point is this – as hard as it is for us as strength & conditioning coaches sometimes we need to realize that during the in-season period we are essentially stress managers and as a result need to place performance on the backburner so that we can do everything in our power to help the athlete stay as healthy as we can.