A recent research paper by Ritchie et al., (2017) entitled “Where science meets practice: Olympic coaches’ crafting of the taper process” has supported a long held belief of mine that performance coaching is about science being applied artistically; in other words we apply scientific principles and knowledge to situations that are complex and human in nature. Ritchie et al., (2017) discuss the taper process and acknowledge previous research in this area that considers different models such a linear, stepped etc. The basic concept is to maintain performance by lowering volume and maintaining intensity and frequency. Ritchie et al., interviewed seven performance coaches in track and field, one of the key findings was that these experienced coaches had developed the scientific principles to deliver a taper but there was much more to the taper than just applying the science. Adapting the plan constantly, monitoring the process and collaborating with the athletes were almost more important in the taper.
For this years British championships I worked closely with two athletes. These athletes had a three week overload period prior to a two week taper. The overload period was hard and included two competitions, one of which was international, a week long training camp and a weekend of national squad training embedded within their normal training programme. Coaches normally plan the taper prior and manage a linear, exponential or stepped type of decrease in performance. Based upon the work cited above I decided to choose a different approach.
We use a programme called athlete analyser to monitor the athletes training load. Athlete Analyser uses the work of Gabbett (2016) to monitor training load and the software produces a live graph. The aim of my taper was to increase performance by lowering fatigue without diminishing fitness, this means decreasing volume whilst maintaining intensity. Using the live graph and collaborating daily (sometimes twice daily) with the athletes I manipulated the taper. One of the graphs are shown below.
Figure 1: One of the athletes “training insights” on athlete analyser shows the previous 90 days training load. The dotted lines are predictive (this was screen shot 3-4 days before the event) and shows the athlete will ‘peak’ for this event.
Both athletes reported feeling very well prepared for the competition and were confident going into the event.
This method is very time consuming, as a volunteer coach I would struggle to do this with more than 3-4 athletes. There is also the consideration of the athletes mental state in the overload period and the taper, coaches have to remember how the athletes are feeling and whilst listening to them sometimes be prepared to move on and complete the sessions you wanted to. Lastly, if you have set technical elements you want to cover in the taper, you may have to accept you cannot.
We should also remember there are some factors not recorded by the software yet, illness, fatigue from work, fatigue from travel etc
This is something I am going to be looking at in a lot more detail, any feedback is welcome! I think working closely with the athletes to apply this kind of science is the key to successful performance coaching.