In an interview this week, England rugby coach Eddie Jones claimed that his side would be 20% fitter by the time they reach the World Cup next year, and that their aim is to be the fittest team in the competition.
Easy claims to make, difficult to back up, but no doubt England’s coaching and conditioning team will have a plan to get the players to where they want them to be. The danger for the coaches not working at the top level though, can becan be a temptation to form training program around what they believe the top teams to be doing based on comments to the media.
So, before you get your players running for an hour and a half every training session, let’s examine the claims, and decide if he’s really saying what he means.
First of all, let’s tackle being the fittest team in the world. Are England fitter than Ireland or Wales? How about Australia or New Zealand? Really nobody knows, and it can never be proven either way unless all the top nations do the same fitness test and share the data publicly (which won’t happen). So, by saying he wants his team to be the fittest, he really has nothing to lose as he knows it can’t be proven either way. And of course he wants his team to be the fittest; along with the best in attack, best in defence and the best in every single aspect of the game.
How about becoming 20% fitter? Well for the average person 20% isn’t too hard, but for the elite professional rugby player in his mid to late 20’s it might be a different story. To look into this claim, we need to ask two questions;
- Is it possible?
- Is it useful?
The answer to those questions is maybe and it depends.
If over the next 18 months England’s players dedicated huge amount of their training time to fitness work, then maybe their conditioning levels could improve by 20% (or at least their scores on the tests they measure). Bear in mind that they have already been training with the current coaching regime for two years, so they will already be highly conditioned. However, in doing this, it’s likely to take away time and energy from other aspects of training, namely technical and tactical training. So in this case being 20% physically fitter would be unlikely to be beneficial to England on the playing field, and could even see them going backwards in a number of rugby aspects which could actually make them worse as a team.
However, Eddie Jones is known as an incredibly smart coach and may not quite be saying what he means. Maybe by 20% fitter he actually means 20% better. His coaching team is known for combining rugby and conditioning workouts into the same session. They will be training in short bursts using rugby drills at higher speeds and intensities than will be experienced in games, in order to build physical fitness qualities at the same time as rugby skills and knowledge. It’s the combination of this type of training, along with pure physical drills that may give them the greatest benefit going forwards, rather than just fitness in itself.
England may be 20% better at the World Cup, but those gains are likely to come from a combination of factors. They will likely have much greater group cohesion, be more innovative in attack and have better defensive connections. And yes, they will also probably be fitter as part of the overall equation.
Maybe then, when we think about fitness, we should think in terms of a definition along the lines of ‘preparedness for the task at hand’ (with the task at hand in this case being winning a world cup), and not take the reductionist view of focussing solely on the physical qualities in isolation.
So if you coach, don’t be tempted to blindly copy what you assume the elite coaches are doing based on what they say publicly. Take some time to think about whether that type of training is right for your athletes at that time and consult with an elite athletic performance coach to help you devise an appropriate training plan for your team.
Posted By: Rob Fowkes
Posted: 05 Feb 2018