A Framework for Program Design Part 1: Needs Analysis
This blog is the first part of three-part series written with fellow Swim Ireland Physical Preparation Coaches Paul Talty and Lorna Barry. The aim of this blog is to provide coaches with a framework for program design regardless of their working environment. Whether you specialize in strength and conditioning with teams and/or individuals, personal training, or rehabilitation, you should have a procedure for first identifying the needs of the team or individual, selecting the relevant program content, and deciding how it will be monitored. This blog addresses the first step by looking at the why, what, and how of carrying out a Needs Analysis.
The importance of training program individualization has previously been addressed on the RYPT Blog here. Prior to individualization, you first need to understand the needs of the athlete. How they are required to perform and what tools will be necessary to achieve this. The aim is to get away from general, “cookie-cutter” type programs that social media love to critique, such as the one in Figure 1 below, a high school program that took a fair share of criticism on Twitter. This blog will not argue what is right and wrong about this specific example, but rather help coaches provide context for such workouts.
The NSCA describes a Needs Analysis as a two-stage process involving the evaluation of the sport and an assessment of the athlete (Haff and Triplett, 2016). In the Essentials of Sport Science (French and Torres Ronda, 2022), Marco Cardinale expands on this by seeking to identify the key performance indicators (KPI). Again, this can be applied to whatever level of client, athlete, or environment you work with.
While having experience in a particular sport, training for a specific goal, or dealing with an injury can enhance your understanding of the coaching process, a needs analysis should still be conducted in order to manage any bias and ensure the chosen methods are justified. Table 1 outlines the components of a needs analysis. The depth of detail required for each will depend on your specific scenario. We’ll look at each component in more detail below.
|Technical & Tactical Aspects||Terminology|
Coach & Athlete Communication
|Psychological Skills||Reaction Stimulus|
Performance Under Fatigue
Coach & Athlete Communication
Coach & Athlete Communication
|Injury Risks||Athlete History|
Coach & Athlete Communication
Sports Medicine Practitioner Communication
|Profiling Battery||Assessment Selection|
|Training Recommendations||Lifting Targets|
Planning & Programming
Sports Nutrition Practitioner Communication
Technical & Tactical Aspects
If you are working with any sort of athlete, then their physical preparation must be related to the sport. In order to understand what they are preparing for, you should have some basic understanding of the technical requirements for the sport but also how the coach requires the athlete to be tactically prepared. If nothing else, being aware of specific terminology can help improve buy-in with the player and coach. An example of swimming terminology is outlined in Figure 2 based on the work from Pollock et al (2019).
While this is not necessarily an area you will target to improve unless sports psychology is your job, having an awareness of the skills an athlete will require can further assist with buy-in.
If reaction skills are necessary, then reactive agility may form part of the athlete’s physical preparation. If decision-making is a key performance indicator, then challenging the athlete with cognitive exercises while under fatigue could be beneficial. Further consideration may be needed in this area when dealing with a rehabilitation case and returning that athlete to competition.
This will be a key area to research, particularly for those involved with strength and conditioning and physical preparation. Within this section, the coach should determine the physiological requirements, biomechanical demands, and any time-motion analysis available. This will help to clarify how the athlete needs to be prepared to perform in their sport.
With regards to understanding the biomechanical demands, deterministic modeling is a useful approach to break down the performance outcome into its various components. Figure 3 shows the deterministic model for swimming performance produced by Hay (1993). This can help identify specific areas for improvement and subsequent interventions.
To identify the injury prevalence within a sport, epidemiological studies would be the first direction to look to understand the types of injuries the athlete could be at risk of. The practitioner may then look at specific interventions or training methodologies to mitigate this risk. Further to this, a conversation with the athlete could identify a significant injury history that would increase their chance of re-injury.
Having gained a better understanding of the demands of the sport, a range of physical assessments may be conducted. Figure 4 provides an overview of the areas that may be assessed. The specific tests will be determined by the needs analysis for the sport; the testing equipment and/or facility you have access to, your level of expertise, and even the preference of the coach.
Ideally, you will have some normative data to compare against. More importantly, the test should be reliable and valid to ensure the test is appropriate and can be repeated. For more information on this area, Mike McGuigan’s book Monitoring Training and Performance in Athletes is a great resource.
Further research for the needs analysis can help provide information on training practices by other coaches or peer-reviewed methods for a specific intervention. Figure 5 outlines the exercises used by elite swimming S&C coaches as researched by Crowley et al (2018). However, the caveat to this is ensuring the recommendations are appropriate for the individual you are dealing with. The exercises used with an elite swimmer may not be suitable for a youth athlete.
This section can also be useful for including some of the nutritional and competition strategies within sports, particularly in combat sports or weight lifting that require athletes to make weight.
The importance of monitoring and the use of Acute:Chronic workload ratio (ACWR) have previously been discussed on the RYPT blog. It is worth investigating the methods of monitoring within your athlete’s sport. Particularly in examples of rehabilitation of team sport athletes, the use of GPS to not only monitor running volume and intensity but help prescribe specific drills can be hugely beneficial in their return to play.
Regardless of your working environment, if you are involved with the physical preparation of athletes, a needs analysis is vital to provide the foundation for any subsequent programming or training interventions. This will help refine your training methods while helping with the buy-in of athletes and coaches.
Once you have developed your needs analysis, make a point of reviewing it regularly. New research, rule changes, and new methods of training and testing can help refine your practice and improve your service to your athletes.
Click here to read part 2 in the series, A Framework for Program Design Part 2: Program Content by Paul Talty.
The following links provide some sport-specific examples:
Strength and Conditioning for Netball
Needs Analysis, Physiological Response, and Program Guidelines for Gaelic Football
Needs Analysis of Mixed Martial Arts
Strength and Conditioning Considerations for Golf
Crowley, E., Harrison, A. J. and Lyons, M. (2018) ‘Dry-Land Resistance Training Practices of Elite Swimming S&C Coaches’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 32(9), pp. 2592–2600.
French, D. N. and Torres Ronda, L. (2022) NSCA’s Essentials of Sport Science. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Haff, G. G. and Triplett, T. (eds) (2016) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning NSCA. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Pollock, S. et al. (2019) ‘Training regimes and recovery monitoring practices of Elite British swimmers’, Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 18(3), pp. 577–585.
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