From The Coach’s Office: Pushing players to the absolute limits

By LEE ADDISON

If CORONAVIRUS  means pressing the rest button, then it’s time for Coaches and Strength and conditioners in the NRL and other high level leagues to take a step back and have a huge rethink about what is ‘normal’ in rugby league training.

Early in season 2019, an average of 17.5 players a week were getting injured in the NRL.  That’s a whole game-day squad. A look at the 2020 season (before aborted) sees 28 players sidelined. After two rounds. 

I don’t think it’s enough to say “the game is more brutal than ever” and leave it at that.

The game is more brutal than ever because the training is “more brutal than ever” and there’s more of it than ever!

Clubs have been keen to use their fulltime players as much as possible during the week, yet the job of staff at each club is to prepare their players for what they are about to face each weekend.  Surely these injury stats point to the fact that we are missing something somewhere in this constant quest for personal bests in the gym and in the cardio and sprint sessions?

In 2019, there was NOT ONE club anything near full strength after four rounds.  After two rounds of 2020, only the Cowboys and Eels were at full strength. How many of these injuries occurred because players were too tired and putting their heads, limbs and digits in a slightly wrong place?  How many were carrying a physique too heavy for what their bodies can naturally cope with and are prone to collapse on their knees or ankles under duress?

How much do we truly know in the NRL and while we are at it, all semi-professional leagues, about what we are doing to our players ?

I know of one NRL player who regularly goes straight to bed when he gets home from a pre-season session and has been known to sleep all day and night until his next session the day after. He says his exhaustion levels are beyond anything he has ever encountered. 

The pectoral tear is a relatively common injury now, compared to just over a decade ago –  a legacy of weight training regimes not meant for wrestlers, colliding with players who wrestle. And what about the explosion of knee injuries in younger players in that time too?

One very high profile player I coached as a junior went to an NRL club as soon as he left school. In a couple of years I’d say he put on about 15-20kg of weight very quickly. I couldn’t believe the size of him when I saw him making his NRL debut.

He busted his knee in no time at all and I have no doubt the big reason was that they piled weight on him far too quickly.     

I ran a detailed pre-season and in-season program between 2010 and 2017 which essentially duplicated a “full-time” professional model and for competitions that are seen as probably the most intense in the world for that particular arm of the game.

We managed to get the injuries down to ONE or TWO a SEASON and still had great success on the field and won most of the games (approximately 85 per cent)

True, this wasn’t  the NRL but in relative terms, it was as tough as it got for those players at this time in their lives and many have gone on to play State League or NRL. The keys to avoiding injury were:

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*  Charting all work and successfully predicting when injuries were more likely so “pulling back” on training intensity around that time;

* No more than 70 to 90 minutes on the field per day;

* All training was game specific (down to significant detail);

* Creation of above-match-intensity scenarios in pre-season (timed and monitored);

* Special focus on work/rest ratios in the lead up to – and during – the season (match intensity and below match intensity);

* Inclusion of lots of collision/contact training to allow the body to adapt to this stress under close supervision;

* All skills were practiced either under fatigue or game related pressure at all times during main sessions;

* FUNCTIONAL weight training specific for rugby league (not body building).  All resistance exercises duplicated what happened in a game; 

* Weights sessions lasted no more than 45 minutes and were no more than two times or three times per week;

* Big focus on core strength;

* Supplementary time was given to players to do positional specific skills “extras” at a self-dictated place;

* Every player received one-on-one video review each week with huge focus on technique in tackles and collisions;

* Players just had “active rest” 48 hours prior to games.

We’ve seen and heard enough over the years to know that some players at the top level are being trained too hard and not in a way that totally correlates to the game.

Personally I am a big believer in “Games Based Conditioning”   

I am a believer in the FOOTBALL elements of rugby league football (arming players with the ability to win with skill and not just brute force and wrestle). 

I am a believer that, if it doesn’t happen in a game of rugby league, then it shouldn’t happen on a training field. 

We are training people for rugby league not the Olympics. Swimmers swim, runners run.  Rugby league players should do rugby league.

Rugby league involves collisions under certain duress. Players need to be more prepared for that than ever.

These NRL injury lists are only going to get worse of this reboot doesn’t lead to change.  But we just accept it as “part of the game”.

It is completely and utterly wrong to just accept it as the norm in the constant quest to get an edge.

Surely one huge edge would be to have a fully fit squad after 4 rounds and your best players on the paddock?

Time for a rethink.

Lee Addison is the current Poland test coach. Find him at rugbyleaguecoach.com.au

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