Early on in my coaching career, I was exposed to a concept that helps you tick all the boxes in athlete preparation. This concept makes you accept that the training process isn't a perfect, clean and linear process. Just like the sport you are preparing for, it's chaotic and unpredictable. On a physiological level and psychological one.
As coaches, we can often get blinkered in the search for the perfect programme. The perfect technique and an athlete responding in the perfect manner. This just isn't possible! The art of coaching comes from learning to dance with the chaos of performance training. For example, one athlete might thrive in a training programme you have prescribed, another might just be surviving. One athlete might be getting fitter and stronger week on week, one might be slower and weaker.
So, what is the concept that I was exposed too?
This is something called TUF, SUF and DUF. This comes from the work of Kelvin Giles. A fantastic coach that has had a huge impact on coaches, athletes and even organisations.
Technique under fatigue
Skill under fatigue
Durability under fatigue (or decision making under fatigue. I tend to interchange depending on the athlete and sport they are preparing for).
Technique under fatigue. Your athlete needs to be able to perform specific techniques throughout the duration of the activity. Have you ever watched a fight when a boxer starts to gas and they just swing for the fences? A footballer you just can't track back? A kettlebell lifter who can no longer get under the bells? They can no longer perform a specific task because they are tired. They are fatigued. What use is it if your athlete can perform a certain task early on but doesn't have the gas tank and work capacity to maintain that performance at the end when it really counts?
How can it be applied? You can intersperse certain skills in a pre-fatigued state. In boxing for example you may do high intensity circuits for 5 minutes, then into technical drills for 10 minutes, then into circuits again and follow this pattern. In kettlebell lifting, you may do short interval sets. Then into a general conditioning exercise then back into more intervals. This is only limited by the coaches’ imagination. It must however have context (what and why), follow the principles of training (the effects of certain types of training on musculature/endocrine system) and be mindful not mindless (not doing stuff for the sake of it)
Skill under fatigue Being able to perform a certain technique is one thing, but to adapt that technique or body or mind-set, that is skill. This is the game changer, the ability to spot on weakness within an opponent, to change a game plan because the opposition is getting the upper hand, changing a technique slightly because of the equipment or the environment. By helping your athletes to develop a skill set that is interchangeable when the time is right, is powerful. Giving them this ability to express it when their backs are against the wall is another level.
How can it be applied? During training, you may get your athlete to learn a new skill. Variation of the clean or snatch grip, a different combination. Early in the session you do this in a controlled, low intensity/pressure environment. Then you jump into the main session, After the main block you go back to that new skill and repeat it when the athlete is tired or challenge them to achieve a set amount of reps within a time frame with this new skill.
Durability under fatigue We have seen the athletes who have underestimated their opposition. We have seen the athletes that crumble under pressure. We have seen athletes who break down frequently. We have seen the team snatch defeat for the jaws of victory. The coaching process needs to allow athletes to experience performing in a variety of conditions that expose them to chaos. We need to apply enough pressure to them that forces them to adapt both mentally and physically. This is a fine balance but is one that can make a huge difference in competition.
How can it be applied? This comes from the overall training process. This should happen as a by-product of well thought out planning. You can see if your athlete is durable under fatigue during a test set, comp practice, friendly match or just in training.
By aiming to develop these areas, you can be confident that your athlete will be able to perform when it comes to crunch time. Now there are so many layers to this it's impossible to account for every scenario. That's why I encourage coaches to use the UK coaching framework of Plan, Do, Review. By doing this early, you will start to build up a library of what works and what doesn't. Which athletes tend to do well in certain situations and which don't do so well.
Keep learning, be creative and don't be afraid to get it wrong!