Yesterday I went out and watched some rugby league, Harold Matthews trial games. It was good to see the young blokes ripping in and doing their best but there were a few things that stood out from the day.
The first, and most important in my opinion, is physical preparedness.
Strength levels are far behind where they need to be for this age group. You can see it in the way they run, the way the try to cut and swerve, the way they absorb impact, the way they get off the ground, and the way they jump. Sure coordination plays a role in this so some of them may have missed the boat on that as coordination tends to be developed by age 12 but I still see strength as the biggest limiting factor.
And this doesn’t mean size. The biggest kids are often the weakest. Sure they can crash through the defensive line a couple of times in this 16 year old age group but you watch them run and their knees are knocking, their hips are all over the shop, and they struggle to control their body weight in general.
So a lack of strength is number one. Why? Because this will lead to injury and also it will limit how far you can progress in the sport. It is ok if you can handle your current age group but for these kids, next year they have to play and age group above themselves again. It is a big jump as you could see easily yesterday with the S.G. Ball warming up. The physical difference is enormous. Sure you will grow naturally in that time period but you can’t rely only on that. If you are Ball age then you have to be able to physically compete with 20s. Then you make that age group but now you have to be ready to play men, and the best in the world.
You have to start training, and training correctly. There are many muppets out there who have no clue how to physically prepare athletes, no matter how much they claim they do. It takes a long time to build strength. It isn’t a 12 week thing, it is a lifelong one. So you don’t have to be at NRL standards right now but you have to be on your way.
The next thing is conditioning. Majority of players are too unfit. They are lazy and don’t do their job in defence. They find short cuts and hide. This is the biggest thing I saw on the day outside lack of strength.
The problem is they come into off-season so far behind that it doesn’t matter how much work the coaching staff can do with these players at training they can’t catch up to the level of conditioning that is required to perform on the field. They could do conditioning for an hour every training night and it would only just get them to the required level. But then how is their actual league performance going to be? Will they have learnt anything about the game? How to defend correct, what lines to run? Etc. NO.
This is the problem at this age group and with the lower grades in rugby league. Coaches have to waste valuable training time doing conditioning instead of focusing on the rugby league itself. The other problem is that even if you come back fit then you end up doing more conditioning then necessary because of the unfit players in the squad holding everyone back. It never made sense to me and still doesn’t. When I coach, if you are fit and meet the standards required for your position and style of play, then you don’t do conditioning, you spend your time on skills, or if you need more strength we focus on that. You will burn these fit guys out and injure them and you still may not even get the unfit ones up to scratch. So you have to prioritise. The unfit blokes can get flogged at the end of training. People say “but its team building”. Fuck that. If you were worried about the team you would get yourself up to par. That is team building, catch up to the front runners, don’t bring them back to your level because you aren’t willing to get uncomfortable.
The third thing, which ties into both of the above, is nutrition. This isn’t even a concept in about 98% of their minds. You can see from their horrible body composition. They would eat whatever they like and think it is fine. Well, that is why you aren’t fit enough to get around the field and also why you aren’t strong enough. Fat doesn’t contract. You carry around worthless weight. Even the kids who look ok, they would be deficient in so many nutrients. You can see this by the lack of training drive, how poorly they recover, and also the amount of cramps, strains, and tears they get to name a few things. Most are also dehydrated. They don't drink enough water.
So to sum this up, you don’t have to be at the level of the world’s best at 16, but you have to be on your way. You have to be doing the things that will allow you to one day potentially be the greatest in your sport. That starts with nutrition and proper strength and conditioning. Those things are totally in your control. There is no reason your nutrition can’t be on point and same as your conditioning. Strength will take a bit longer but you can just be starting when you are 18 or 20. It is far too late.
What is considered good nutrition and strength training is very much debated but it has to be tailored to your needs and it will constantly change depending on many different things. So source out people who have done what you want to do and who have had repeated results with others.
Don’t listen to blow arses one week out of University or someone who has done one weekend seminar.