Physical Preparation for Team Sports: Functional Groups

Physical Preparation for Team Sports: Functional Groups


There is one bias in humans (although there are many, many more) – we believe (or perceive) that members of some external group are more cohesive and pretty much the same, whereas at the same time we perceive variations and differences in the groups that we belong to.

There are many (sub)groups in a team sport group/team, and they can be created by using different criteria. Ideally (or in theory), we want to approach each athlete individually, but in reality that is pretty hard, so putting the athletes in same buckets with similar quality allows for information compression and quicker & more efficient actions, and lower mental load. There are indeed some inherent traps to this categorical thinking.

Categorical Thinking

Figure 1. Categorical thinking

In the picture above, it can be seen that there is a fight between more or less categories, since less categories provide less mental load, but on the flip side they hide the intrinsic details (differences within categories, and similarities between categories, especially on the border). Hence, there is a tug-of-war or other complementary aspects (more/less, between/within).

There is an inherent risk of labelling someone, but there is also an inefficient way of approaching everyone individually (although we should strive for that). The solution is to use groups then, but also to remember to frequently re-evaluate them and strive to approach everyone individually.

There can be many groupings in team sports (e.g. position, age, experience, or clustering based on some algorithms), but in this chapter we are mostly concerned with “functional groups”

So what are the functional groups?

Without being able to come up with more appropriate name, functional groups relate to the current training status of the athlete (i.e. away, national team, injured, available, etc) and whether they played the previous match or are they going to play the next one. This makes planning a bit easier for the coach, although there are going to be frequent movements of the athletes from group to group.

As pretty much everything in this book, this represents a “jig” that constraints the “degrees of freedom” and makes decision making a bit easier. But, based on your unique situation and context, you are more than free to modify the jig.

Here are the categories I use:

  1. Playing Squad
  2. Reserves
  3. Non-Travel
  4. Injured
  5. Away

Not sure I’ve picked the right terminology, but is seems logical to me, and you are free to modify it.

Playing Squad refers to athletes who played the last game over the certain threshold (for example, in soccer we use 60min) and also represents the athletes who are going to start the next game (i.e. starting line up).

Reserves, sometimes called the Bench refers to the athletes who were in the last game and are in the next game protocol, but who haven’t accumulated enough minutes to deem special treatment (e.g. recovery training the next day). For example, in soccer we have 11 starting players, and 7 athletes on the bench (6 sub players, and one extra sub goal keeper). For each game, 18 athletes are enlisted in the game protocol.

Playing Squad and Reserves differ the most after the game, where the Reserves might do extra hard day (conditioning), and the Playing Squad might do recovery session. They differ less as the week goes by, and due to inherent risk they most likely do the same training couple of days preceding the next game. This is due to the uncertainty of the game, where we cannot afford to have reserves tired, since they might go in and play a full match.

Non-Travel refer to the athletes who were not in the previous game protocol (e.g. in soccer not in the 18) and who are not in the next game protocol. Most likely these athletes are not traveling with the team, so they are called non-travel group. These players can afford different training regime, and they mostly consist of younger athletes and injured athletes (although injured ones have their own group). Together with the Reserves, the Non-Travel group can be playing the “Reserves League” or participate in the club Academy competitions.

Injured group is pretty much straight forward. These are the guys who are not fully available for training nor games due the injury. The injury group can have multiple sub-groups based on your medical/athletic training approach to return-to-play. For the sake of simplicity, I use three subgrups:

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I am a physical preparation coach from Belgrade, Serbia, grow up in Pula, Croatia (which I consider my home town). I was involved in physical preparation of professional, amateur and recreational athletes of various ages in sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, martial arts and tennis. Read More »

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