Conditioning for team-sport athletes

By Nick Jolliffe, CSCS

As trainers, coaches, parents, and athletes it is important to understand the physiology of team sports and design conditioning programs that stress the appropriate energy systems.

Strength and conditioning specialist, Nick Jolliffe, at Sanford POWER in Bismarck, NDMost team sports consist of repeated periods of high-intensity activity with limited rest between each. This high-intensity activity consists of acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction components. Most American team sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, hockey, and soccer work on these elements within their practices or games. Coaches need to prepare athletes by conditioning specific movement patterns, intensities, exertion times and rest times that are used in their sport.

Increase Conditioning Variations to Limit Injury

An athlete being asked to build a conditioning base through long steady state activity – jogging for miles at a time – can develop negative physiological changes as well as negative muscular changes in tissue fiber type, tissue length, joint range of motion, and ultimately increasing the chance of injury.

Example Conditioning Plan

To improve conditioning, while reducing the chance of injury, conditioning programs for team sport athletes must train top speed, acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction.

For an example of conditioning for a team sport athlete, let’s look at the 3-day conditioning template for an American Football Wide Receiver.

Day 1: 300 yard shuttles (60 yards down, back, down, back, down), keep under 60 seconds.

Day 2: flying 40-yard sprints with 45-second rest, each sprint reaching top speed.

Day 3: Keep it sport specific and run actual receiver routes, with limited rest (similar to a series in a game)

Find Complementary Team Sports

Playing other team sports that replicate the same energy systems, acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction factors is also a beneficial way to condition. For example, if an athlete’s passion is hockey in the winter they could play soccer in the fall. Hockey and Soccer have very similar metabolic profiles that will benefit you on the ice next winter.

The ultimate goal for conditioning a team sport athlete is to prepare the athlete for their specific sport.

References: Mike Boyle, “New Functional Training for Sports” 2nd Edition.