by Tom Billups
With the high school and collegiate national championships concluded and club rugby down to the semifinals, the off-season is underway.
For many teams, the off-season is simply that -- time off. In high-performance environments, however, the off-season is a critical phase in the athlete’s continued improvement. Players are in a structured program, even if one phase of the program is resting.
A well-planned off-season includes a restoration period that allows an athlete to recover and relax after the competitive season. This period typically lasts for several weeks, followed by a purpose-built strength training cycle.
After playing rugby full-time and year-round for the Premiership’s NEC Harlequins and the US national team during the late 1990s, I myself learned the importance of having an off-season the hard way. The idea of taking some time off from training or playing rugby drives most competitive players crazy, but in fact it is the best thing to do if you want to continue to improve your performances on the field. Just as it takes a lot of discipline to get to the gym or on the track to train, it takes discipline to allow your body to rejuvenate.
New Zealand All Blacks head coach Graham Henry has come under fire for standing down 30 players who, without an enforced off-season, would be competing year-round. But Henry and his staff realized the need for a coherent seasonal plan if they were going to have a chance to win the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
As a coach, part of the audit process that I annually conduct includes a review of the team’s seasonality. Sport scientists agree that a key factor in consistent performance improvement is variation in the training stimulus.
Bob Braman, head coach of the 2006 NCAA Champion Florida State men’s track team, was recently asked about his team’s approach to seasonality. His answer was surprising to people who haven’t previously thought about it. Braman forcefully spoke about the importance of his athletes’ getting away from the track completely after the intensity of competing. In his experience, athlete’s don’t improve if they return to training still mentally or physically tired.
Recovery is different from being restored. You can recover from one match to the next, but it takes longer for your body to fully restore itself. Restoration only occurs when you get the right kind of nutritional fuel and adequate sleep during this time period.
You can’t ramp up the intensity of your off-season training if you don’t shut it down first. Players won’t often hear me say to them “take it easy”. This is the right advice at the right time for those who want to make a big leap in their improvement.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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