10 Aug

At Novanta, we design and implement training programs to improve the short, and long-term performance of athletes. Our mission is very clear, and we want to be equally clear in describing the processes and systems we use in our work to achieve our goals. Ultimately, any training action we take, program we design, or testing session we deliver, starts with a set of questions. Why choose one drill over another? Why is this particular exercise performed at this particular intensity better than a set of alternatives? Such questions must be answered, and decisions made for us to step on the field, or into the gym and train our athletes. This three-part article series will elaborate how we as a company go about answering some of the critical questions that form the foundation of training soccer athletes. This article series is intended to highlight the foundational principles, concepts, and modes of reasoning that we employ in our work. Part one will introduce the foundational concept of demands and determinants of performance. Part two of the article series is directed at explaining in detail how we analyze the game of soccer in order to identify the key demands that must be trained for. Part three of this series is focused on explaining how we use information about the demands of soccer to make informed training decisions. The third article will end by synthesizing all the conceptual and factual elements presented across both articles into a global training philosophy that summarizes how we go about our work.

These three articles will be presented in a rather untraditional way. Firstly, the goalkeeper position is used throughout as a model. Although the discussion will be specific to the goalkeeper position, the principles, concepts, and modes of reasoning underpinning the conclusions presented are generalizable to the sport of soccer (or any sport) at large. Second, the articles are written in a conversational voice. The objective is to speak directly to a young goalkeeper, and by extension any young athlete, and engage her/him personally with the material. This is why the pronoun you is used throughout the articles.

As you know, goalkeeping is a unique position within the sport of soccer – and even when looking across all sports! There are many specific skills that you are training to master that define the position. Not only do you have to develop and refine those skills individually, but you also have to integrate those skills into training/competitive environments that are unpredictable and require you to find solutions to the contextual game problems you are faced with.

Have you even wondered what things determine success in goalkeeping? Professional coaches try to answer this question by identifying what are called determinants of performance. Let’s look at this concept in a general way quickly before we come back to goalkeeping.

We can look at any sport at the level we previously described (i.e. the integration of skills into a dynamic game context), and then go a layer deeper and look at the sport at the level of demands. A demand is a more precise description of the physical-mental actions, and the things that influence these actions, unique to a sport environment. The following examples should help you grasp this idea: What types of motions (e.g. running, pulling, lifting, etc.) make up the sport?;  In what direction(s) must the athlete move? (e.g. only in a straight line, multi-directional); At what speeds/durations must the athlete move at/over? (e.g. rapid/short duration, slow/long duration); What types of loads do the athletes have to move? (e.g. body weight, added equipment, opponents); What features of the sport environment dictate movement? (e.g. reaction to auditory cues, reaction to movement of opponents/teammates, tactical cues); What features of the environment constrain motion? (e.g. surface, temperature, game scenario/rules, number of players).

As you can see a sport is composed of many demands, and we have not even discussed those that are more cognitive, and emotional in nature! Coaches use sound scientific reasoning, along with their experience and knowledge of the sport, to take all these various demand parts and connect them into a clear, whole picture, that accurately reflects their sport. Sometimes it is helpful to take a whole picture and break it up into its smaller pieces so it can be more easily understood. Applying this approach, sport demands are often broken up into tactical, technical, physical, cognitive, and emotional demands. It is from this picture of a given sport, that coaches will again use sound reasoning and experience to select those demands that they believe are determinants of performance; that is, those demands that an athlete must be able to meet, and exceed, if they want to achieve success. Framed another way, it’s those demands that if an athlete can’t meet, will lower their probability of succeeding in the sport. With this background in hand, lets jump back to goalkeeping briefly.

If we want to do a proper and honest job in answering our initial question (what things determine success in goalkeeping?) we need to explore the demands of the position, and then identify determinants of performance. At this point we should be clear, that for the purposes of this article we are only interested in the physical demands & determinants of performance; one part of the whole picture. Before we go off in this direction it is important to remember that the technical, tactical, physical, cognitive, and emotional demands of goalkeeping are fundamentally coupled, and interact in different ways, at different times, and at different stages in an athlete’s development to produce performance. Just as we here are doing a deep dive into the physical demands/determinants, so too have your goalkeeping coaches established the technical, tactical, cognitive, and emotional demands/determinants. We collaborate as a team to ensure that in training we address these demands in their parts, but also as a unified whole. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start talking about training just yet. Our next task is to uncover the physical demands & determinants of goalkeeping performance. This what we will turn our attention to in the second article of this series.





Photo courtesy of: Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

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