Prescribing when it counts.
There are still some issues to be sorted out for elite athletes, some abilities to be polished, key training sets to be refined, but for most from here on in, these are finishing touches. Approaching a major competition, the imbedded applied sports physiologist will inevitably feel enthused and keen to make a difference. This could be harmless, but it has the potential to compromise athlete and coach performance. During the early phases of preparation, e.g. years 1 and 2 of an Olympic cycle, the physiologist is looked upon for ideas and innovation. This is their opportunity to make changes, to test and refine ideas through the mid-cycle phase. Idea evaluation will then settle a strategy toward the third quarter of preparation. But once you tick past 18 months to go, there is little room for new prescription. Unless the training intervention is very low risk, then it should be avoided. The role of the physiologist in this instance is reinforcement of the formulated strategy.
Physiologists might be put into the tricky situation of being asked to make a call on a key training session in the final week or two before competition. The role is to establish why a change is necessary and the potential risks and benefits. Rather than getting caught in the detail of intensity, repetition duration and recovery ratios; simple measures of load and volume are the most elegant tools to help illuminate the decision making process. The coach may also need someone to help clear away the confusion. Most crucially listen attentively and reinforce the strategy and decisions that were established when the mind was clear well before the pressure of competition increases. If a change is to be made it needs to be done so on the basis of good data.
In this situation the applied practitioner will require flexibility in approach, demonstrating the technical logic of physiological justification balanced with emotional awareness that acknowledges why a coach is looking to make a last minute change. The coach will want to see the physiologist conversant with the detail but will require philosophical reasoning to see the bigger strategic picture. Balancing these qualities optimally is rare. Most physiologists who move into the applied arena have trouble taking that step forward into the unknown of prescription, to act with the courage of their own convictions with the humility necessary to reinforce, listen and ultimately our raison d’être to support.
As Churchill put it nicely; “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”