Explore the Design and Implementation of an Optimal Training Session
By Tony Poggiali
While there is likely no such entity as a “perfect session,” we have tweaked and adjusted our athlete sessions over the past nine years to evolve into a system that works for us. So, instead of calling it the perfect training session, we are going to call it the optimal training session. While this works for us in our situation, it may or may not be conducive to your facility and situation.
The Optimal Training Session: The First 5
For the first five minutes we spend some time hanging out, talking about life, or what they had to eat that day, or how their school day turned out. Some athletes will be performing SMR, while others will be messing around with their buddies. While we started doing the traditional dynamic warm-up protocol early on, we have somewhat changed into more of a game – based warm up. On any given day, we will be playing Frisbee football, Hawaiian football, basketball, dodge ball, tag, baseball, capture the flag, wall ball, tire ball, or cone ball (the last two we made up). While we don’t conform to the industry norm on this one, we have observed that it accomplishes the following during our games:
- Creates a fun and relaxed environment which builds a positive attitude, team building and excitement towards training.
- Provides a dynamic warm-up. Also wakes them up for a morning session!
- Allows coaches to indirectly evaluate athletic performance of the athletes.
- Breaks down barriers between coaches and athletes as well as athletes to athletes.
- Allows athletes to experience/practice various athletic skills without formal coaching.
- Allows sport-specific athletes to expand their overall athleticism.
- Stresses fun and enjoyment (process) versus winning and losing (outcomes).
- Allows “free-range” playing versus structured playing; kids are in control rather than adults 🙂
- Builds social skills, especially camaraderie, support systems, bonding and emotional coping skills. Games are also a great way to introduce new kids into our program through unstructured play. Who doesn’t need a few new friends in the process?!
- Teaches problem-solving, strategy and nurturing an athlete’s “physical IQ.”
- “Organized chaos” can lead to long-term adaptations in other settings such as school and home life.
- Kids can make the rules and thus, follow the rules. They start to find out their intrinsic value and leadership skills.
- Experience the unadulterated joy of human movement.
TIME ALLOTTED: 12-15 minutes
The Optimal Training Session: Skill Success
Our major goal with the bulk of the training session is a combination of skill introduction, acquisition, development/improvement, and ultimately, mastery. The biological, chronological and training ages are all consideration when we design our skill protocols. For example, if the skill is linear based, we may spend more time on marching, skipping, and posture for younger kids; for kids with a higher training age, we may advance to resisted acceleration, heavy sled dragging and/or plyometrics.
The design of this chunk of time is based on choosing a “skill of the day” that we want to perform, attach 2-4 drills to that skill, and then execute those drills, always keeping in mind that we are training a skill, not a drill, per se.
Our typical week is broken down into three skill days:
Day 1 (Mon/Tues) – Linear
Day 2 (Wed/Thur) – Lateral/Angled
Day 3 (Fri/Sat) – Change of direction
(This template can be changed at any time, and we always have a “plan B” should issues arise. We also integrate an “All Strength Day” at various times throughout the month. It is usually the athletes’ favorite day.☺).
TIME ALLOTTED: 20-25 minutes
The Optimal Training Session: Strength & Power
The final section is strength and power development that utilizing many of the same ideas formulated and coached during the skill session. For example, if performing a linear acceleration skill day, we may include any of the following for our strength and power movements that day:
- Sled march
- Step –over lunge walk
- Hip thrust and/or bridge variations
- Split squat
- Step up
- Deadlift variations
- Hip hinging variations
There are literally dozens more but you get the idea. We try to pick sagittal plane movement patterns to match our skill movement patterns. We also will have at least one horizontal pattern during this time.
TIME ALLOTTED: 15-20 minutes
The Optimal Training Session: The Last 5
Time permitting, we really want every athlete to leave feeling a sense of accomplishment, confident and full of energy (not exhausted, although it can, and does, happen). In the last five minutes we may play another quick round of a game, or just sit and talk. There is so much to glean from a child by simply showing that you care about them. It is probably the highlight of the hour when a kid opens up and tells the coach something they do not share with others. Those last few minutes may be all they remember to tell their parents or to carry them through the rest of their day. It is our duty to make those moments memorable.
To the last point, the Training Manifesto (below) is visible in our coaches’ area:
ASF Training Manifesto
- Help as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible, as often as possible.
- Our hunger and thirst for improvements in knowledge, skills, and abilities will continually be fed.
- Our number one desire is to be the best we can be, every day to every person.
- We have a full commitment to enhancing the performance and life skills of all athletes we work with.
- We are not afraid to push the boundaries of human capabilities when necessary.
- We are first and foremost developers.
- We will view coaching both as an art and a science.
- Our success as coaches is directly tied to our ability to communicate, inspire, and motivate.
- We embrace our position as role model, mentor, and friend.
In closing, there really is no perfect way, system, or session. I am sure most coaches have gone through multiple revisions to land where they are now. As soon as you think you know everything, you realize you know nothing! It is a never-ending process. This is what works for our coaches and athletes, but will likely always keep evolving and improving.