Monday, October 24, 2011

LTAD as the Understanding of Water Polo Matures

I am about to try and get back to regular blog writing after an intense summer of building a house. Sorry if you have been looking for ideas or research on water polo recently and had nothing new here.

One thing I have heard quite a bit about this fall is training aerobic capacity for water polo and how Canadians taught to coach in the 70's and 80's (and onward?) were expected to develop an "aerobic base" for their players. This aerobic base had many coaches developing yearly training plans that had Aerobic training as a physical priority for as much as 50-60% of the season. However, the game has never been 50% aerobic at the senior level so that approach to training was unwise at the outset.

If you are wondering how that developed, how we needed to create an "aerobic base" for a water polo player, it can be found in the LTAD framework for the sport. There are 2 things that confuse this issue. One is the aquatic environment where coaches often need to teach physical literacy and comfort in the water. You can't teach comfort if the players are not able to be active in deep water for 90 minutes so aerobic work often got kids to that point. The other difference is between how International players play with explosive anaerobic components and children play the game with less structure ie chasing the ball aerobically around the pool. Coaches in clubs would need to teach various levels and that began with teaching movement and swimming so patterns of training were established and intensity changed as players got older but structure remained.

So, what am I proposing here? Simply that coaches need to recognize that aerobic capacity is outlined as a physical development of all children clearly under LTAD and in water polo we need to look at this closely around PHV (peak growth periods for each player). Children need to develop aerobic capacity as they grow and this can be done well in a water polo setting if that is where their athletic interest lies. However, this does not have to be doing swim sets that a speed swimming club would do with back and forth freestyle!

One thing is very clear, we don't need older players to have 50% of their physical load in an aerobic setting. I am very aware that history can give us many examples of coaches that "ran teams in the mountains", or swam 4000m swim sets for days on end, while producing great teams. But let me suggest that if all teams were doing this similar training then it wasn't simply the workload that set the winners apart form the losers. It also has to be kept in context that some coaches only train part of the player and they may put volume of work as a measure of toughness while psychological training can be absent. Perhaps "excessive workload" is playing that role of psychological training in some macho settings.

One of the things that an LTAD framework can help water polo coaches deal with is developing whole athletes. There are specific windows of trainable development for all energy systems and strength gains with each athlete. Sharing these periods with complimentary sports as children develop takes some of the load off water polo coaches who want to accelerate skill development in the pool setting. Likewise, extending a water polo practice from 90 minutes to 120, or 120 to 150, by adding land work can also help this area. Both strength and aerobic capacity can be developed on land in ways that will benefit in the water. Let's hope coaches are now beginning to explore these avenues more as LTAD points them out and waves the concepts in our faces.

One thing is for sure, if a competitive team of water polo players over the age of 18 is swimming a set of "8 x 400 free" then the the coach is either uncreative, underachieving or not sure of what energy requirements the game has at that level. Sorry to all the NCAA coaches that learned a different approach but you must have way too much pool time if a set of 400 free is a priority!