Periodization and the Systematic Sport Development Process – Part One

Periodization is simply planning. It is something that effective coaches have done forever. Planning gives direction and purpose to the training. It also provides a context to evaluate performance aside from wins and losses or personal records. Periodization is a concept not a model. It is a systematic attempt to gain control of the adaptive response to training in preparation for competition. There is little “hard science” to substantiate periodization. It is mostly based on scientific inferences rather than hard scientific evidence. On the other hand there is an immense body of coaching evidence going back into the early twentieth century that underscores the key elements of what eventually became known as periodization. These key elements are:

  •  Systematic approach
  • A strategy to distribute training loads in relation to competition goals
  •  A defined structure for progression
  •  A sequential building block approach
  •  A set time frame for execution of the plan
  • All components of training are addressed
  • In pursuit of specific competition goals
  • Reflects the undulatory nature of the adaptive process
  • Systematic manipulation of the variables of volume, intensity and density
  •  A method for monitoring training and evaluating competition results

The concept of periodization works the best when the majority of the variables can be controlled. The most important variable is that of competition. Control of the competitive schedule is essential to the success of any plan. One of the stated goals of periodization is optimum performance at the desired time, whether an individual competition or a series of competitive efforts. Today the undefined nature of the extended competitive calendar represents the biggest change from when the concept was formalized in the 1950’s and 60’s. There is an abundance of high level competitions at the elite level and also for that matter at the developmental level that do not allow for long developmental periods of training.

It is important to frame periodization within the concept of the sport development system. The diversity of our nation has always been an overwhelming strength in the development of our elite athletes for international competition. This diversity resulted in a “non-system” sport development system. We cannot blindly copy the traditional eastern European periodization models. Our sport system operates in an entirely different socio cultural political milieu. We must take the principles and concepts and adapt them to our current reality.

Periodization as a concept is certainly not new, or particularly contemporary. The name may be new to many, but it first appeared in coaching literature in the fifties and sixties. Periodization as we know it today was articulated by L.P. Matveyev who studied specific sports and looked at the periodic and cyclic nature of training necessary to achieve peak performance at the time of major competitions. The nature of periodization as it has evolved represents a reflection of the socio- cultural reality of the countries where the concept was first articulated rather than any science of the cyclic nature of performance. The science came later in order to better quantify and verify the concept.

After the Russian Revolution the Soviet Union organized virtually everything in society into five-year plans. Specific measurable production goals were articulated and all effort was directed toward the achievement of those goals whether it was agriculture, industry, or education. It was only logical that this approach would eventually be applied to the sport development process. Therefore, when they decided to pursue sport internationally as a glorification of the communist system, the same systematic long term planning that was used in the rest of society was applied to sport. Rather than five or ten year plans the time period in sport development was the quadrennial cycle culminating every four years in the Olympic Games. They recognized that success in international sport, especially as the stature of the Olympic Games gained more international prestige in the sixties and the seventies, would result in a validation and glorification of the communist system.

It is also important to consider the impact of two world wars fought on the European continent. World War Two devastated the male populations of what was to become the eastern bloc nations after the war, as well as Germany, England and France. The Soviet Union had 21,320,000 people killed out of a population of 194,000,000, included in this number were 7,720,000 civilians killed. Germany had 5,600,000 killed out of a population of 78,000,000 including 2,300,000 civilians killed. In contrast the United States had 292,131 killed out of a population of 129,000,000 with no civilians killed. (Goralski, 1981)

In short after the devastation of WWII there was no talent to waste! Systematic development of the limited human resources for sport development was a necessity if they wanted to compete. Periodization (Systematic planning & development of the athlete) was a tool to enable those countries to optimize their human resources. It is also important to consider that physical culture was an inherent part of the communist ideology. A healthy physically fit populace was needed for a strong military.

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