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Periodization and the Systematic Sport Development Process – Part Two

Matveyev was one of many who formalized the concept. Because he was Russian, and the Soviet Union was the dominant geopolitical force in the communist bloc, Soviet ideology tended to prevail even in sport. This explains the dominant influence of the Soviets in the literature of training methodology. Certainly, there were others like Harre in the GDR who made significant contributions.  Still, most of what we see in the literature today, including the work of Tudor Bompa, who has done much to popularize the concept in North America, is basically a rehash of the Soviet literature. Not much has been done to modify, study, change or adapt the concept to the contemporary challenges that exist in sport today. Over the years most of the science underlying periodization has been in the form of studies of overtraining. Although today there does seem to be more sports science research directed to studying training adaptation which certainly has the potential to add science to the art of planning. (Rowbottom, 2000) The international sport environment is very different today than it was even twenty years ago. Where previously the focus was the Olympic Games as a culmination of the quadrennial plan, now there are more frequent world championships in many sports. Competition schedules are not as clearly defined. In most sports, especially at the elite level, there is no defined off-season. None of the literature on periodization has ever effectively addressed team sports. In addition one would be naïve not to recognize the huge impact systematic doping had on the development of the former eastern bloc sport development systems. In fact much of the cyclic nature of classical periodization was based on sophisticated manipulation of drug cycles. (Franke & Berendonk, 1997)

We should also be aware that the strict control of the athlete’s lives inherent in the socialist system was key factor in the success of classic periodization model. Competition schedules were carefully planned and strictly adhered to. Once the athlete was identified their lives were strictly controlled. This control certainly did not exist in the west nor does it exist today except in Cuba and to a certain extent in China. Even though it may be a value judgment, we certainly recognize the limitations and the human cost of such an approach. Nevertheless we must consider that factor when we look at the training literature on periodization from the former eastern bloc nations and attempt to adapt those principles to our society. This control allowed the system to limit competition and control many variables that we are unable to control in our society. There was an emphasis on volume loading and long periods of general preparation leading up to a few major competitions that is unrealistic in our system. To apply the concepts of periodization to our reality we must challenge these notions, they must be framed in the context of our “non-system.”

The United States is no different than any other country in that sport is a reflection of the socio-cultural milieu in which it exists. For many years up to 1976 the United States was able to dominate the world in athletic competition. The basis of our “non system” was a well-defined comprehensive physical education program. Physical education was mandatory in the schools from K-12. The physical education programs provided a cadre of trained coaches well founded in the principles of pedagogy. Planning is inherent in good pedagogy in the form of a “lesson plan.”

We also did not suffer the ravages of war in our country. Our infrastructure was actually modernized and improved by the war effort. Comparatively we did not suffer the same loss of life as the European counties, especially among the civilian population. This gave us a large healthy pool of talent to choose from. We also had a well-defined competitive sport structure based on interscholastic competition culminating in collegiate competition for the more talented. This encompassed all sports, but did not include significant female participation because of antiquated beliefs on the limitations of the female to train and compete. These factors all contributed to our dominance in international sport.

In the US periodization was not formalized and articulated as such. There certainly was not an overall national plan. Our training year was loosely divided into off-season, pre-season and in season. The top coaches certainly had command of the concept of planning. Bill Bowerman, the track and Field coach at the University of Oregon, organized all his training in fourteen and twenty-one day cycles. In his system the training year was divided into three month periods with specific objectives for each period. A cornerstone of his system was the hard easy principle which took into account the unity of work and rest. (Walsh, 1983) In swimming, Doc Counsilman at University of Indiana, certainly had command of an overall annual plan based on physiological concepts. The number of workouts per week, dry-land exercises, total time and distance per week, the type of training and time of sets was planned for each month. (Counsilman, 1977) Dean Smith, former basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, had detailed daily practice plans which were the basis of his program.  These were derived from a master plan for the year as well as a weekly plan. (Smith, 1999) All these coaches are icons in the American ”non-system” who used the principles of what came to be called periodization. The common thread is that among these coaches is that they had formal training as teachers.  That was the norm for coaches. Planning was an essential part of their pedagogical training. They also recognized that planning was essential for success.

The bottom line is that for a long time our “non-system” served us quite well. What happened? The first thing that changed was the erosion of mandatory physical education to the point where today there is only one state that has mandatory physical education K – 12. The most obvious impact is that youngsters are no longer exposed to systematic physical activity. They are no longer taught basic movement or sport skills as part of an organized curriculum. What we failed to notice is that because physical education was no longer mandatory that less physical education teachers were being hired. The physical education teacher made up the pool of trained coaches. Then there came an increased emphasis on academic achievement to the exclusion of physical education. In addition there were budget cuts due to declining enrollment and tax cuts. Therefore less qualified coaches were hired in the schools. Club sports began to take the place of school sports. These coaches had no educational requirement. Teacher training colleges changed their mission from teaching to research. Title IX put an increased burden on the schools because in many sports it was now necessary to field two teams instead of one. This served to further deplete the pool of trained coaches creating an obvious staffing problem. These problems are a reality in the United States in 2004. Understanding and adapting the principles of periodization is imperative to reverse these trends.

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