Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mental Toughness – Is it all in the mind??

Mental Toughness – Is it all in the mind??
As described in my previous post on the energy demands required for rugby, it is evident, that the variety of training techniques required and the mix of energy system demands at differing points in the game, makes this collision sport a pretty difficult one to adopt a “one size fits all”, approach to conditioning.Coupled with its mixed and varied demands, is the elusive aspect of mental toughness and its impact on both conditioning and real time, match performance, which probably alludes to the age old battle of “conditioning vs heart”
This is sometimes replicated in the occurrence of many a fire breathing behemoth, who is able to tackle the snot out of his opponents or make one or two wall blasting breaks, but whom has to substituted due to fatigue, and reduced performance or more commonly, due to injury.
This is typically noted in many players, or coaches for that matter, who struggle to find the balance between the various and interlinking elements of fitness required for the game, observed in their training sessions. It is sad to see in many a school, varsity and club set up that long distance runs and bodybuilding type strength programs are still being adhered too, despite the evidence backed mixed conditioning programs of present,  that has allowed the elite to be where they are.It is all well and good to train the various elements of fitness required for rugby, to build the foundations of those factors, but to continue to practice them in isolation is damned near suicidal when it then has to be translated to match performance.
The game is played over 80min, and with its dynamics of tackling, rucking, sprinting, jumping, evading, mauling, scrumming, breaking the line, SUPPORT PLAY etc, and with most of these activities been vastly on different ends of the fitness spectrum and occurring almost in succession, it is understandable that the most direct approach to conditioning the body to match these elements, would be to match your training to these conditions, as closely as possible.
This does not however suggest that one should therefore play a game of rugby every training session, or design programs that incorporate fuel mixes into every session, as periodisation and common sense must still prevail. Once all the fundamental aspects of strength, endurance, power, speed etc have been intuitively progressed through the off and early pre-season, it is then time to allow the body to experience some of the mix of these elements as experienced in a match setup.
Been involved with devising conditioning programs for a premier division club in Durban, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing first hand the success of specific routines in specific individuals. Manipulating on field training sessions that mimic game situation demands can be easily replicated with the use of circuits, that force the individuals to work at high intensities, for specific periods of time, depending what your focus as a coach or player would be. These circuits however require careful planning and thought, as there is always a fine line between conditioning for mental toughness and conditioning that precipitates overtraining. Thus correct timing of these sessions during the season, as well as an efficient dose response relationship, between intensity, volume and recovery is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, there is no rulebook to this type of conditioning, but taking into account what your goals are for that specific session, makes dose manipulation more practical (you wouldn’t want to focus on power endurance and have your players do a generalised circuit involving 20reps at each station with 30sec rest in between). An example of a power
endurance circuit that i find works well, at improving both mental toughness and repetitive bouts of explosion in succession with relatively short rests is as follows.

As can be seen in this circuit most of the elements of play are involved, including different movement patterns as well as, and different modes of physicality, in power, plyometrics, and speed work. The high workload (important is the low volume) at the various stations, in succession with little rest, forces the athlete to fight through the fatigue, whilst still forcing him to put in a big effort. A grid like this can be done twice to three times working up to a max of 4 sets with a 2min rest between circuits. In the smaller grids A and B, the athlete is pushed to work maximally followed by a 20m recovery jog, to build up an effort for the next phase of hard work.
Another well used form of training for mental toughness enhancement, is that of strongman training. This type of training can be termed ‘Functional’, as it incorporates the use of everyday items, such as tyres, barrels, sledgehammers, thick rope, and weighted sleds. The ability to perform many of the strongman movements, utilising these ‘oddball’ pieces of equipment, yields strength, power and endurance gains, unparalleled by any other source of training, as it works the body as one unit. The other advantage of such training is the vast methods of program manipulation, and incorporation of power circuits, similar to the one above, but utilising strongman specific movements, such as farmers walks, sled pulls, tyre flips and drags etc.Thus we now see, the endless possibilities to safely pushing the limits of your players, that will improve their all round performance and reduce injury rates through a progressional exposure to match simulated intensities and elements.
N. Orson

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