2.1.7 Planning Practice-Managing Physical and Psychological Load
The Physical Work Load
When planning practice sessions, the coach includes technical and tactical aspects (passing, dribbling, 3 on 3 drills, etc.) as well as activities to improve the players’ physical development (e.g., drills to improve coordination or speed). The coach can improve the physical condition of the players, not only with the more specific physical work but also by including technical and tactical training that involves physical work (for example, when the players perform fast-break activities).
However, it is equally important to avoid fatigue and burnout. When young players are overtired, they no longer enjoy themselves, they learn less and there is a greater risk of injury.
To control the balance between physical work and rest, coaches need to consider both the work they are doing with their teams as well as other activities that players participate in.
Young players are likely to participate in other sports or play basketball with their school or other teams as well as in their free time, apart from the work they do with the team. Players that have commitments with a regional or national team, for example, may need to train less with their club team in order to avoid overtraining.
It is important to keep in mind that the players should be rested before a game. So, training sessions in the day or two before a game should have a lighter physical workload. Similarly, training sessions for the day after a game should be relatively light.
Most importantly, the balance between work and rest needs to be kept in mind during each training session. The players should perform a series of activities and then be able to recuperate from the effort by either resting or doing activities that require less physical effort.
For example: after full court 1 on 1 (intensive exercise) activity the players will need to rest or do low-intensity drills (for example, free throws).
When estimating the physical workload, a distinction should be made between volume and intensity. Volume is the total amount of physical work performed by the players. Intensity refers to the physical work that the players do within a unit of time.
For example: an activity including thirty full court sprints has more volume than an activity involving twenty full court sprints. However, the second activity requires more intensity if it is done in 3 minutes and the first activity is undertaken in 5 minutes.
Coaches need to consider the total volume (workload) in a session and ensure that players have adequate rest between high volume practice sessions. They should also balance the intensity of activities, providing longer rest breaks in between high intensity activities or following a high intensity activity with a less intensive activity.
The Psychological Load
Just as the coach should control the physical workload, they must also control the psychological load.
The psychological load is related to such aspects of training as:
- the players’ commitment to their sport: the greater the commitment, the greater the psychological load;
- players’ participation in the activities: the greater their participation, the greater the psychological load;
- the novelty, variety and complexity of the tasks set during a session: the greater the degree of novelty, variety and complexity, the greater the mental effort required;
- the degree of attention demanded of them: an activity that the players are doing for the first time may require more attention than an activity that they have done many times;
- stressful competitive situations: exercises that pose stressful competitive situations (for example, playing a game with a time limit in which the winning team gets a prize) impose a greater psychological load;
- the behaviour of the coach; if the coach is on top of the activity, giving instructions, commenting, correcting, reinforcing, etc., the psychological load is greater. This is particularly so if the coach’s behaviour produces stress.
However, coaches must also be conscious that without a minimum psychological load, the training session is dull and boring. Therefore, monotonous sessions (doing the same drills again and again) or where the players participate little (for example, a long line of players waiting for their turn) will be counter-productive.
Similarly, sessions that do not include competitive drills or if the coach does not provide evaluation of the players’ performance may lead to boredom.
Also, when the coach appears disinterested and is not involved in their work, it can lead the players to a sense of boredom and a loss of interest.
The coach must seek to provoke a psychological effort on the part of the players which helps them to control a difficult situation that can actually be controlled. For example: dividing a team into two groups and organizing a shooting competition between them is a common activity.
If the players shoot from positions in which they can actually score and if the level of the two groups is similar, the activity will have a productive psychological load. The players will be concentrating on the task and they are faced with a competitive situation that they can handle. They will have to deal with the frustration of missing in order to keep on trying and they will be faced with the success or failure of the final score (thus learning to control emotions related to success and failure).
However, if the players are shooting from positions from which they can barely reach the hoop, or one team is much better than the other, the psychological load will be negative. After several failed attempts, the players perceive that they are not controlling the situation because no matter how hard they try, the goal of scoring is beyond their reach and, in these conditions, both motivation and effort will diminish.
In general terms, the psychological load for players that are aged 12 or under should be moderate. In order to achieve an adequate load, the following should predominate:
- activities in which all players participate (thus avoiding situations where they are waiting a long time for their turn);
- simple activities which the players know or can quickly perform;
- general contents that do not force the players to make a special effort to concentrate on very reduced stimuli;
- short activities to avoid losing the players’ attention;
- competitive activities, carefully monitored by the coach in such a way that successes and failures are evenly divided.
For these teams, the total volume of psychological load can be similar in most of the practice sessions. During each session, either activities of a similar load can be used or activities with a greater load in conjunction with others of a lesser load.
For teams of 13-14-year-olds, the psychological load can be greater and even more so for 15-18-year-olds although, in both cases, greater and lesser loads should be alternated in practice sessions and in the drills performed during each session.
Let us consider, for example, a one- week plan of four practice sessions for a team of 15-18-year-olds:
- the first day, the coach introduces new offensive objectives that require the players to make a significant mental effort (medium-high load);
- the second day, the same objectives are repeated, using non-stressful activities (medium-low load);
- the third day, the coach uses competitive drills related to that objective and others that the players have already mastered; some activities may be stressful (high-very high load);
- the fourth day, objectives are repeated using non-stressful activities (low load).
When planning the entire season, the coach should bear in mind the importance of psychological rest periods as well as physical rest periods, so that the players will be able to assimilate the work they have done and be in a fit state for new productive efforts.
It is therefore a good idea, during the season, for young players to have rest periods which involve taking a break from basketball. It is advisable for
them to divide their time between their sports activities and other physical, recreational and intellectual activities. For example, a coach may plan sessions that have a low psychological load when the players have school exams.
Similarly, having a team watch a video of the game immediately after playing does not take into account the psychological load of the game or the psychological load of watching a video of this type. A game involves a very high psychological load producing extreme psychological wear and tear, and requires a period of psychological rest so that the players can recuperate.