Jon Wilkin Column: Methods of pre-season training fluctuate between the scientific and more rustic (From St Helens Star)
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Jon Wilkin Column: Methods of pre-season training fluctuate between the scientific and more rustic
11:00am Thursday 18th October 2012 in Sport
THE off season is a time to relax and enjoy a break and ensure that your ailments have fully recovered before a tough pre-season begins.
The team disperses but we are given training programmes and guidelines of what to do with our time off, gym sessions, running programmes, sun bed sessions (the offenders here know who they are), what to eat, drink and what not to.
In essence, although we can relax from the pressure and tension of the week-to-week games, really the job never stops.
It is a huge privilege to be paid to keep fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle in the off season, the four weeks we have off is more time to catch up with family and friends who you are forced to neglect through the year. We report back for official duty in November for our pre-season training in preparation for next year.
Methods during this period seem to flow in a constant cycle which fluctuates between scientific approaches to fitness and strength and a more ‘rustic’ approach to getting in shape, that is running until you are sick and then going again.
Our conditioner Matt Daniels seems to have reached a balance, he combines the science with the help of Chester University measuring body fats, dehydration and fatigue but also knows that ‘beasting’ us in the gym and on the field without reason is also vital.
I have watched with fascination after the Olympics the different approaches taken by athletes to preparation, in particular the British cycling team headed up by Dave Brailsford.
He talks a lot about a concept called ‘marginal gains’, which is the process of seeking to gain an advantage over your opponent by picking multiple facets of your preparation/performance and improving on them by a very small percentage, ultimately the result is a cumulative large gain.
For example the cycling team invested in the best equipment, riders took their own mattress to each hotel ensuring a consistent night’s sleep, the best food prepared for them etc.
This constant search for the cutting edge in sport has always happened; teams are constantly looking for the thing which will give them the winning advantage.
The one restriction is budget - the British cycling team spent 15 million to win the Tour de France and Olympic gold medals. When you get the right blend of talent, preparation and investment in the talent the results can be fantastic.
This theory has some relevance in rugby league but ultimately with such a short preparation between high impact games and limited budgets it becomes very difficult to enforce marginal gains.
Albeit I honestly believe the Olympics has shown that results are not an accident. They are a result of hard work and planning. Don’t expect to see us checking in our pillows and mattresses at Liverpool airport when we fly to Perpignan next year though.
Olympic disciplines are much different from a week-to-week team sport. For example, being the fastest, strongest or leanest doesn’t necessarily make you the best, although its goes some way to helping.
Team sports for me have to be about more than percentages, numbers and stats.
It has to be about spirit, a will to win and emotion. I think these are things people who watch the game are attracted too and I know this because I am a fan of the game.
I didn't watch Steve Renouf playing centre for Brisbane and think he looks lean, and strong! I thought he's exciting to watch and instinctive.
The science behind what makes a good rugby player is important but in my opinion it is not what is interesting about our game, if we base our game purely on percentages, numbers and targets are we at risk of removing the value our sport has as a business, which is entertainment. People pay money to watch a game and be entertained not to witness a scientific experiment. The science of winning is going on behind the scenes but for now I would like to keep it there.
One thing I really miss in the off-season is being around the lads, we do have a good laugh together and there is not a day goes by where we don't laugh with or at someone uncontrollably.
I know when I stop playing the game the one thing I will miss is that. I often wonder how the everyday man would react to the destructive banter that goes on in our dressing room, we smash each other’s character from all angles until it takes the shape of what we are after.
It is a process that has happened for the entire time I have been at the club and from speaking to Paul Loughlin at the Pride of St Helens awards it went on well before I was around. The one problem with this environment is it makes you very bad at receiving compliments.
It’s like a shock to the system! Sitting next to Paul makes you realise what a great club St Helens is -great players with personality, true characters of the game.
We have a past players association which is expertly run at the moment but I would love to see more players from the 80s, 90s and 2000s attend the functions. For whatever reason lads who are recently retired don't seem to come back to the club so often with exceptions. I’d love this to change.