A quick google search for a couple of definitions helped to start this process.
clearly defined or identified.
the quality or condition of being Specific.
THE SPECIFIC DEMANDS OF COMPETITION
It’s widely accepted that training for sport needs to be specific to achieve desired outcomes.
The concept of specificity is one that is often chased to ensure no training time is wasted, to address a player and teams’ specific needs.
Training may be described as
However, is it always?
Coaches within a multitude of disciplines should aim to consider and address the specific demands of competition – to help form the basis of a training programme. A basic needs analysis can help with this, working backwards from the end goal in mind.
“The What It Takes to Win” model from GB Rowing is a great example of this.
The Specific Demands of competition may be identified as:
As an S&C Coach – I’ll tend to naturally bias towards looking at the competition demands through a physical lens, however, I also need to consider the others where possible.
If I’m lucky enough to be part of an established MDT like I currently am, I have excellent people around me that can help to do this.
THE ENGINE, THE VEHICLE AND THE DRIVER
Loren Landow (S&C Coach to the Denver Broncos in the NFL) provides a brilliant philosophy that I’ll often look to when checking and challenging my practice.
“Work on handing the skills coach a better quality vehicle, and let them work on the driver.”
For me – this basically means improving a players physical qualities to give them the capacity to technically and tactically excel – at least to the best of their ability.
In other words, coaches can work on optimising a players understanding of where to be, when to be there, and what to do when they are there.
My job is to support this process and make sure players have the physical capacity to be in the right place, at the right time.
Metaphorically treating the player like a “vehicle” makes a lot of sense in my head – and helps me keep things simple. Some examples might be:
- Aerobic Fitness – The Engine – 1.0, 1.2, 1.4L…
- Acceleration Qualities – 0-60 mph
- Deceleration Qualities – The Brakes
- Maximal Speed – Top Speed
My next questions are:
- What are the key mechanisms which contribute to these qualities?
- What are my chosen methods for developing these mechanisms.
- How much and for how long will I have to use these methods?
In my scenario, training which overloads and develops the physical qualities which support effectiveness of the vehicle is highly specific towards the desired outcomes.
A Traditional Specificity Model applied to Football
Through a physical lens, the Bondarchuk Model taken from basic periodization concepts identifies training methods as
- The Event
- Competition Exercise
- Special Development Exercise
- Special Preparation Exercise
- General Preparation Exercise
An in-depth summary diagram is shown below.
On the surface, this model tends to consider training in terms of what it looks like, and how it might relate to competition.
- Time-Motion Demands
- Planes of Motion
- Spatial Demands
- Joint Angles
- Force Direction
As a crude example – in football this may look like
- Event – 90 minute 11v11
- Competitive Exercise – LSG – 8v8
- Special Development Exercise – SSG – 4v4
- Special Preparation Exercise – Linear Sprint Training – 3 x 40m
- General Preparation Exercise – Back Squat – 3 x 5 Reps.
All of which have their place within a footballers training cycle, but becoming less specific in their appearance when compared to 90 minute 11v11.
Despite being less “Specific” – is the Back Squat a less effective exercise than a 4v4 Small-Sided Game – if we want to develop 11v11 performance?
If we’ve identified lower body strength as a primary factor which is limiting performance in a player, then the 4v4 is less specific than the Back Squat.
Chances are, it’s not an either-or scenario within most environments, and this is an exaggerated example working at extremes of the continuum – but it should help to illustrate my point.
ADAPTATIONS AND OUTCOMES
A players development programme should be driven by desired adaptations and outcomes.
It’s up to the MDT to identify which are the primary adaptations we need to chase.
The closer the training programme matches the required outcomes which are needed to create optimal holistic development in the player, the more successful the programme.
Often, training which is less specific to competition demands is more useful for creating the overload needed to drive adaptation in our players, because it’s easier to measure, control and manipulate.
CASE STUDY: BOXING SCIENCE
At the Boxing Science facility in Sheffield, the boxers are exposed regularly to gruelling 30-second max out sprints. They have to sprint as fast as possible on a curved treadmill, maintaining max speed for as long as they possibly can, then minimise its decay over the set.
This is a proven and an excellent method for driving adaptations at the muscle-cell level – which creates great improvements in aerobic fitness – which is a limiting factor to performance.
The durations, intensities and the fact the boxers are running, (not punching!) does not look anything like the demands of competition or traditional training, even.
However, boxers would never be exposed to these intensities and modes within traditional training, meaning the target qualities wouldn’t be overloaded.
This method is therefore a useful addition to training, overloading and creating adaptations in a physical quality which aids boxing performance.
SPECIFICITY VS CHAOS
The competition itself may not overload every single one of the target qualities which we want in players.
This is why we train, to create overload, adaptation, and therefore improvements in performance.
In the following points – by “specific”, I mean this in terms of appearance similarities to the game.
- The higher the specificity, the higher the chaos.
- The closer training looks to competition, and the more “specific” the programme becomes, the harder it may be to track and measure performance change.
- This makes evaluating a programme’s effectiveness harder.
- The more “specific” my programme becomes, the harder it may be to create the overload needed to drive adaptations.
- The more areas I try to address at the same time, the less I may be overloading any single one of them.
Overall, quite a few random thoughts which feel quite disjointed. My main point is to design programmes with outcomes and adaptations at the forefront, rather than specificity of appearance to competition.
How can drills from our own training sessions, say a 8v8 LSG- be manipulated to overload the following?
- Psychological Demand
- Physical Demand
- Social Demand
- Technical Demand
- Tactical Demand
Can we effectively overload more than one demand at the same time?
If we push more in one area, does this retract from the development in another?
See below, a step by step process – resembling a basic plan-do-review concept can be applied within most environments, irrespective of the sport.
- Identify the things that are important to develop in your players, across the entire four-corner model. Why are they important? What clues does previous success leave?
- Find ways of testing, monitoring and tracking progression of these areas. Can this be done within training, or does time need to be allocated soley to this?
- From your testing and monitoring, identify priority areas, strengths to hone and weaknesses to develop. What is helping a player? What is holding them back? Make these areas better.
- Design a programme which addresses and develops your priority areas of both the team and as many individuals as you can. Can your allocated time cover this?
- If the allocated time for the group can’t tick the identified development areas of every single player, ask – are top ups or extras needed? Note that a “top-up” could look like anything – thirty minutes with the analyst looking at clips, extra running, or a session discussing goal-setting with the Psychologist are just some examples.
- Sit down and review whether the programme was effective. Did the areas of importance get better?
MEASURING A PROGRAMME’S EFFECTIVENESS
For training to be truly specific to a player’s needs, strengths and weaknesses, there are a number of questions which should be asked.
Q: Was the programme effective?
I don’t just have to identify my programme choice as effective, but as the most effective way of achieving the outcome which allows the player to excel to the best of their technical and tactical ability.
Q: Could a different programme achieved greater success?
For it to be truly specific to the needs of that player, I have to believe that there couldn’t have been another programme have been created which would have achieved the outcome in less time and energy.
Obviously this is ambitious and near impossible, and we can never truly know if there may have been a better choice as we review each programme.
However, it’s the pursuit of this, which should drive the evolution of performance within football.
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