An interview with the Newcastle Knights High Performance Director Jeremy Hickmans. Please click here to purchase Jeremy Hickmans professional Rugby League pre season training programs. Question 1 How different positional players have different regimes during the pre-season? It is essential, after the development of primary physiological systems, to make the pre season program as specific to the individual and the demands of the game as possible whilst also developing the group of players into a ‘team’. To this end, each players program contains a combination of exercises and drills tailored to their own positional and physical needs. For instance, players that are just progressing from the junior competition will generally not be able to sustain as high a work ethic as those players with 5 or 6 full pre seasons behind them. At the other end of the scale, it is important to realise that the older players are capable of getting their bodys in shape in less time and are unable to complete every facet of every session due to their long playing and injury history. It is at this point that the importance of sports science and training monitoring becomes invaluable. The technology and data collected allow us to make early, informed decisions on whether players either need to rest or work harder – unfortunately, for todays player there is no hiding place!! Positionally it is common sense that a 115kg prop will not be capable or need to complete the same type of training as the 80kg halfback. The advent of time motion studies, in depth video analysis and GPS technology has allowed us to identify and prescribe conditioning and game programs that individualise work:rest ratios, intensity of work and type of movement. For instance, distances run in a game can generally vary from 5-7km for props to 9-11km for full backs and halves. Within this type of distance, each individual will move in different ways – it is important to address short repeat high acceleration movements when training front rowers with the majority of outside backs moving at higher speeds over longer distances with more recovery. Therefore, positionally, players can be trained to address and potentially exceed the demands of their position with scientifically prescribed drills and movement patterns. Question 2 Each player is different mentally how is it tailored to make all of them want to give their all to the fitness side of the game? We are fortunate, working with well paid professional athletes, that is is their job as well as their passion to become the best player they can be. However, one has to acknowledge that pre season is both a physical and mental challenge to each player and individuals will have good and bad days no matter what their levels of experience. To this end, it is important to provide challenging but reachable short term goals throughout pre season (and in season) that each player can strive to achieve. Our program is designed to identify targets and goals that each player must achieve before they move on – thus creating a positive, competitive environment in which each individual can realise their potential. It is also essential, whilst developing good habits and routines, to provide a modicum of flexibility and variation in the program that allows the pressure valve to be released. In my opinion, this is one of the most important factors when planning pre season – rugby league players will always work hard – learning to relax and recover is hugely important and must be scheduled into the overall program. Generally, however, once a player understands that what they are doing will benefit them, their career and the team, training ceases being work (although it can always be hard) and becomes challenging, fun and rewarding. Question 3 training today is so much different to 20 years ago. Obviously this has improved the game but where will we be in 20 years from now? Even in my relatively short time in the game, the emphasis on science and technology has changed the way in which we address the development of physicality with the emphasis now placed on specificity and quality rather than quantity of work. However, it is imperative that we, as coaches, do not become over reliant on the science to the detriment of the art of coaching. Since we can measure and churn out and endless amount of data and statistics, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that we have to perform on the field of play with the endless variation and challenges that this entails. This is where it is key to somewhat seperate but integrate the roles of the Performance Coach and the Sports Scientist. Each brings important skills and expertise to the table which, when utilised correctly, compliment each other perfectly. Neither should work without the other, but it is important to make decisions based on both empirical data and individual observations to understand the athlete and the demands of training. I am concerned that the next 20 years will bring us so much technological input that the basic skills of coaching will be lost – the first place for the coach should be on the field, not behind a laptop! Having said that, if we can perfect a way of using the inevitable technological improvements then the game can only get faster and more entertaining… Question 4 this might sound pretty obvious because everyone looks at it as a fitness perspective, but I know there is more to it than that. There is injury prevention and so on and so forth. Very true – pre season is the foundation on which the season can be built. The role of the pre season and the Performance Coach is varied – from the obvious physical preparation (which is multi faceted in itself – speed, endurance, power, strength, flexibility etc) to the development of team dynamics in stressful situations, injury prevention, rehabilitation, individual development (education etc), nutritional education, lifestyle development – the list goes on!! Pre season, while the emphasis on games is not there, allows us the opportunity to take the time to address these factors. Realistically, with the weekly game demands, in season becomes a time for maintenance and recovery – if improvements ae not made in the pre season then it is too late. Question 5 You have been around to a fair few clubs with Wayne and each of them would have been at a different level when they arrived. How much of a hindrance is that? How long will it take them to get up to scratch? How much work and what kind of it much be done to get them to the level they need to be at? It would be easy to use that as an excuse but every team can and needs to improve – it is just a matter of in what areas and how much. When joining a new club or starting a new pre season, it is important to identify where the major improvements can be made at that specific time and design the program to accordingly. This may mean that the emphasis has to be on improving basic endurance levels or addressing strength levels in the gym – that is why we test. As far as how long, there is no easy answer. I have never had a team or individual that cannot or do not need to improve in some area – I consider their development as continuous, whether the improvements be small and specific or major. Generally, the main focus at a new club / with a new player tends to be the development of resilient physical characteristics and technical efficiency. This is generally the foundation of any physical development program in that it is essential to create a strong fitness base before addressing more intense activities such a short speed endurance. Each player is tested medically, functionally and physically top provide a baseline from which each program can be prescribed. These assessments range in complexity depending on the physical make up of the athlete but will generally include a full musculoskeletal screen (including injury history), flexibility/mobility testing, functional movement testing and basic physical tests (such as strength, the beep test and 40m sprint). Each pre season allows us to build on the gains of the previous season and prioritise the objectives of each player according to their position on their individual physical continuum. However, the basics stay the same and the standards required are never lowered. Question 6 what do players do during the pre-season? As a general overview, we address the development of energy systems prior to Christmas, with a shift towards more individualised prescription within a team environment as we progress closer to the start of the season. Players are expected to perform 5 field sessions a week (skills, speed, conditioning), 4 strength sessions and two flexibility sessions. On top of this each athlete will have individually prescribed ‘extras’ programs that must be completed – this will range from specific injury prevention to weight reduction as required. Click here to see all of Jeremy Hickmans Rugby League pre season training programs. Question 7 tell us about one of the best pre season performances you have seen? Ben Creagh at the Dragons – 9.8% improvement in aerobic capacity / 8% improvement in max acceleration / 7% improvement in max speed. This improvement came through individualising the development of aerobic fitness / top end anaerobic capacity and an emphasis on lower body strength and speed technique. Jeremy Hickmans Jeremy Hickmans is the Performance Director for Wayne Bennet and the Newcastle Knights Please click here to learn more about Jeremy Hickmans and purchase his Rugby League Training Programs.