Overtraining can be your worst nightmare as a coach. Not only will it lead to a decrease in the performance of your players, but it can also cause illnesses and injuries that will derail your season!
When your fixture list contains a game every 2-3 days, such as the high school or college season, avoiding overtraining can be difficult. Luckily, there are a few sure-fire things you can look for and principles you can follow that will help you avoid these pitfalls and ensure you have a successful season!
To understand overtraining, we need to briefly examine the GAS principle, a theory developed by Hans Selye. The GAS principle, otherwise known as general adaptation syndrome, describes the three stages the body experiences when exposed to stress.
The first stage of GAS is alarm, when the body is first exposed to the stressor. The resistance stage follows, when the body begins to repair itself. The final stage, exhaustion, is the result of prolonged stress. In the exhaustion stage, the body is no longer able to handle the stressor and certain systems, including the immune system, will become compromised. This is the stage we wish to avoid as coaches!
When we overload our players in training or in the weight room, we are putting a stress on the body (alarm). We hope during the resistance stage, the body will repair the muscles and energy systems stronger than they were before. The next time the body is exposed to that stressor, it will be better equipped to handle it.
The key is to keep your players in the sweet spot between avoiding the effects from detraining (too much rest) and overtraining (too little rest aka exhaustion stage). To do this, we must understand what types of stressors will be affecting our players.
Typically, the stressors that are most common will be from games, training, and strength work. But stressors you may not anticipate can also arise, including a lack of sleep, concern for school exams or fitness tests, or even relationships.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to predict when your players stress levels will rise, but there are always a few trends you can look for.
For example, with college and high school students, external stress levels will be highest around exam times and before fitness tests. If students are studying late, they could also suffer from lack of sleep, which can accelerate the exhaustion phase.
Because it can be difficult to differentiate between a team struggling after a tough training session and overtraining, here are some of the signs and things to look for to help keep your squad as fresh as possible and stay in the sweet spot.
Sign #1: Consecutive Days of Poor Training Quality
If consecutive days go by when players struggle to match your expected playing tempo, it could be a sign of overtraining. Don’t confuse this with players taking a little extra time in the warm up to “restart their engines” after a tough game or training session.
This is when players consistently fail to hit the speed and tempo that you have set for them on a daily basis. If you believe this symptom is caused by overtraining, your players will definitely benefit from a few days of rest.
Sign #2: Too Much Too Soon
If you overload your players too much before they are ready to handle it, they could experience overtraining much faster than a well-conditioned player. Certain types of training games can also cause more stress on the body due to the number of actions required.
Any type of 1v1/2v2/3v3 game requires a lot of actions, which puts a huge demand on the body. These games need to be short in duration initially, and then they can be gradually increased in duration as players bodies adapt.
Especially in preseason, coaches need to be more careful with the training load that they place on their players. It doesn’t make sense from a physiological perspective to overload players with two to three hard sessions per day, when they aren’t ready to handle one yet.
Sign #3: Rollercoaster Trend in SoccerPulse
Unhealthy Trend (Left) - Healthy Trend (Right)
I placed this sign last on the list, because you should try and make observations with your eyes first, and then look at the data to see if it backs it up. If you use an athlete monitoring system like SoccerPulse, you can see graphs and trends of soreness, fatigue, stress and sleep levels.
An unhealthy trend would resemble a lazy roller coaster that is consistently saddled with high levels of stress, fatigue, soreness, and never returns to low levels.
A healthy trend for your players should look like a mild roller coaster. The players will start feeling fresh, become exposed to the stressor and dip, but then return close to normal in a day or two.
If you see this trend present through out the entire squad, you might want to examine your training style and intensity.
New feature coming to SoccerPulse v 1.3.4 - Team History!
But if it is only occurring in one player, you may need to reduce the load of that player in training, or examine why they are not able to recover as quickly as their teammates.
Monitoring and managing your players isn’t a perfect process. There are plenty of times when it is tough to tell if players are just a little sore or suffering from over training, but the combination of the three signs, plus your own intuition should help guide you on a successful season!
This blog was written by SoccerPulse Creator Matt Danaher. He strives to help give coaches the tools to make it easier to manage their players and have successful seasons. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org