One of the greatest deterrents to peak performance that I have encountered as a collegiate wrestling coach and former athlete is the inability to maintain motivation and focus throughout the season. Several factors contribute to this inability; the length of the athletic season, the inherent demands of athletics, and the academic demands of college. The cumulative effects of these factors are physical fatigue and injury, mental fatigue and burnout, loss of performance, and ultimately a loss of enjoyment for the sport. These effects can be assuaged through proper training periodization.
Training periodization divides the seasons into distinct training segments and provides a framework for goal setting. Each segment focuses on a specific training goal. Strength coaches and physical trainers commonly use training periodization to optimize strength, size, speed, and endurance gains. For example, a typical strength training schedule is divided into four segments; hypertrophy, strength, power, and maintenance. Each phase is designed to optimize specific qualities. The hypertrophy phase optimizes muscle growth; the strength and power phases optimize strength and power, respectively; and the maintenance phase is intended to maintain the gains made in the previous phases.
Training periodization is important because it sets short term measurable goals for the athlete and coach. These short term goals are essential to the athlete because they assist in maintaining the focus needed in competitive sport. Coaches can utilize training periodization to set a time frame around sport specific goals. A wrestling coach may divided his season into segments which focus on the essential components of wrestling, team specific deficiencies, and/or academic calendar. For instance, one wrestling coach may choose to divide the season into three segments; skill/technique acquisition, mat strategy, and conditioning. He/she may devote two months to each of these segments. Both athlete and coach may now set individual goals around this time line. The coach may want to teach a certain number of techniques within the first two months. The athlete may want to perfect a specific skill or number of skills within this time frame.
For the athlete, it is important to document the goals for each segment in writing. This gives him/her a sense of purpose and provides a source of evaluation and feedback for both athlete and coach. It is important for the coach to refer the athlete back to the documented goals periodically to further maintain focus. At the end of each training segment an athlete feels a sense of accomplishment if his/her goals were successfully met. A coach may use this as an opportunity to reward the athlete for his accomplishment. This provides motivation and focus to be carried into the next training segment. This also becomes an opportunity to redirect the focus of the athletes who do not meet their goals.
Another benefit to training periodization is that it places an emphasis on performance goals rather than outcome goals. The typical athlete may set his/her sights on winning the championship at the end of the season, an outcome goal.
Unfortunately, the outcome of an athletic event does not wholeheartedly rest in the hands of an athlete. Yet, it is difficult to shift the focus away from outcome goals with athletes because performance is most often measured by wins and losses by athletes and coaches alike. Training periodization provides a plan for achieving these outcome goals. Yet in the process the athlete learns to set short term performance goals and begins to appreciate the sheer achievement of performance.
When developing a training periodization for an athletic season it is important for coaches to adapt the length of the training segments to the athletes and sport that he/she is involved with. For various reasons, some sports may require more segments and others may require longer segments. Similarly, athletes differ in their motivation, attentional focus, and skill level. As a general guideline for college level athletes, I recommend 6 - 8 week segments. It is important to keep the segments short enough to fend off boredom, yet long enough to accomplish the training goal of the segment.
Incorporating training periodization into the athletic season will alleviate the drain and doldrums of training. Because it divides the athletic season into smaller parts, it provides a sense of accomplishment at each interval. Athletes also learn to set short term goals related to performance which will decrease the probability of failure. Ultimately, training periodization keeps motivation and focus at higher levels and makes college athletics more enjoyable.