As the high school football and volleyball seasons wind down the inevitable truth becomes a reality for more teams...there can only be one champion! Every season starts with the excitement of possibility, promise and hope only to give way to the inevitable reality of competition, goals are either attained or they are not. I believe it is this finality that makes sports so alluring. The other reality of team sports is that it takes a team to win. While the age old adage is true that there is no "I" in team, there is also truth in the fact that a team is only as good as the weakest player. Teams will set their goals but the reality is that the success of the team will come down to each players individual commitment to improve themselves. Champions are not created during the season or during the scheduled practices, they are created by daily deliberate discipline and determination. Improvements will come slowly and only maximized through the compounding interest of consistency.
The first step in the process of maximizing athletic potential is an honest assessment of all aspects of performance. While some aspects of performance are the obvious focus, specifically skill, speed, strength and power there is an overlooked yet vital piece of the puzzle. The one thing that can destroy all attempts at improving performance in an instant is injury. Yet, every year athletes suffer a variety of injuries during the season but give them little to no attention after the season. Athletes jump back into offseason training regimes or move on to the next sport without completely resolving the injuries that they have sustained. The human body has an incredible ability to compensate for injury in one area by utilizing secondary muscles. A friend of mine with 30 years of experience in athletic training coined the phrase "continue your rehab until your weakness becomes your strength" and yet laments the fact that year after year athletes will rehab an injury only until they return to participating then abandon the program. Not completing the rehab process and fully recovering range of motion and strength ratios is simply setting up the body for future injury. The body is a kinetic chain and just like any chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Sports by their very nature place extreme levels of stress and strain on the body repeatedly.
Once an injury has occurred not only is there the initial tissue damage but there is an immediate onset the compensation pattern. In response to the injury some muscles become inhibited or weak and other muscles spasm to protect the joint. These initial responses lead to changes in joint alignment or posture which then changes the mechanics of the joint. These changes can be subtle and overlooked especially when the initial pain and disability of the original injury reduce and yet they remain. Thus, the first step of any offseason training should focus on resolution of these patterns, including specific stretching or strengthening to reduce the compensation patterns. The subtle aspect of sports training is overlooked by most athletes as they are focused on increasing strength, speed and skill. Hours are spent running, lifting, and practicing skill only to be negated when the injury reemerges or the new stresses of the compensation pattern create a new overuse injury.
The premise of "Periodization" in sports training is to break the year into smaller progressive training cycles which build on each other to have the athlete in optimal condition at the onset of the next season. Lack of planning or skipping phases will decrease the effectiveness of the overall program. The first phase or "corrective" phase is the most vital component of the process but the most likely to be skipped. If a the body is only as strong as its weakest link and a team is only as strong as its weakest player then maybe we are missing the most important part of preparing athletes.