Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sport Form

I decided to re-publish  this older article (which is actually a translation of the chapter from the book by my professor Vladimir Koprivica) from 2006 on Sport Form with minor changes due the fact that lately I've lost my writing mojo
This article was published on Power Development IncEliteFTS and Reactive Strength Training websites. I glanced through it and corrected some sentences as much as I could, so please bear with bad English (this was wrote in 2006 when I just stared writing in English).

The Sport Form Phenomena

As an active member of various sport discussion forums, and a reader of a lot of webpages and blogs, I noticed that the „westerns“ aren't familiar with the concept of sport form. When I say „aren’t familiar“ I don’t mean they didn’t experienced it, but they rather lack the knowledge and experience identifying and controlling it.

Every coach knows that it is impossible that their players perform at their top shape for prolonged period of time without over-burning, injuries and lack of motivation which finally result in fall of their performance. Some coaches have developed excellent methods and principles in planning and programming of athlete preparation process (which consist of training, competition and recovery which is in most cases under-appreciated part) taking into consideration this phenomena. They maybe call this phenomena with different names, but in Eastern Europe it is called sport form!

There are two types of sport form: individual and team sport form. Individual sport form is most noticeable and the easiest to control, but team sport form is very hard to control, but in the same time, if you currently suck as a player, your teammates can cover your ass, so basically, team form is bigger then the sum of individuals sport forms, making it more complex. More on this topic later.

            Russians have made a huge effort exploring and controlling this phenomena. Note that they didn’t invented it, they explored it (same as Mount Everest – it is not invented, it is discovered, but it was there all the time where it is still now). As stated before, this doesn’t mean that a lot of coaches aren’t familiar with it, just they are not familiar with the research done by the Russians, which in turn can help them to
  1. Identify the state of sport form
  2. Predict the behavior and results of their athletes on major competitions
  3. Control sport forms, and as a result control performance of their athletes
  4. Improve their planning and programming of athlete preparation process and thus increase their performance when it counts the most

For this very reasons, I find that it is very important that „western“ coaches (and the gross of our own European coaches) familiarize with the sport form phenomena and its impact on performance, planning and programming of athlete preparation process which in turn can help them to create better players and better results at the most important competitions.

I would like to notice, that I am not an expert on this subject, and I don't find myself an authority to talk about it. For this very reason, I am very glad that I have a permission from my teacher and mentor prof. Vladimir Koprivica to translate a whole chapter from his outstanding textbook for our Training Theory course.


Sport form is a term that is very often used in scientific and expert literature, news, radio and TV reports, in the discussion between experts, coaches and athletes. Most of them, without regard on their expertise, can evaluate whether some athlete or team is in the state of sport form or not, but only very versed experts know the principles of its development, its phases, durations, components, and which is most crucial, can manage/control sport form and predict its course. 

            What is sport form? One consider it is just one moment in the athlete’s career, when he reach his maximum/best result(s); second consider it as a state of preparedness that allows successful performance on competitions; third as a state of athlete in one period when he attain high and stable results etc. Most of experts accept that sport form is the state of the optimal preparedness for a sport achievements which athlete attain with adequate preparation on each new level of sport perfection. So, sport form is a state of optimal (best) preparedness, but in the same time it is a process, because it changes during athlete’s career parallel with sport improvements with each individual. Simply stated, we must differ sport form in pioneer, cadet, junior and senior stages of athletes career, because every following stage represents its bigger level. With the consideration of sport form definition, it is clear that it is not correct to state that athlete or team is in „bad, poor form“. So, athlete or team ARE or ARE NOT in the state of sport form. 

To be in the state of sport form, and in the right time, is the most crucial task  which should be solved during training process by coach and athletes! Only if they successfully solve this tasks, athletes can achieve adequate, desirable and planned result. Majority of athletes during the season (year) accomplish to achieve the state of sport form, but only the minority of them achieve it at the right time – during the  most important competitions of the season. Unfortunately, some athletes do not achieve neither situation, so according to competition point of view, it is a lost year. Exception to this is when elite athletes who purposely set their year training plan and competition calendar, to allow rest and recovery after multi-year hard training and competitions (for example it the year following Olympic games) .

Primary criteria by which sport form is evaluated is the results on the competitions.  Competition is the best test, because it integrates all the components of sport form. In the sport branches, in which the result is objectively measured (for example in meters or seconds) this is relatively easy to do. Prominent soviet athlete, coach and scientist, Bondarchuk, have recorded daily results of hammer throwers which he coached, and by using this method he managed to track down and control their sport form. It is well know what results were achieved by his athletes on major competitions. However, in gross of sport branches (for example in sport games, martial arts, sport gymnastic etc) evaluation of sport form is substantially complex, because along with numerous external factors, result depends also on the quality of sport opponents. In this case, the most reliable evaluation of sport form of the athlete or team can give coach (or couple of them). However, this can be also done by experienced athletes.

One renowned soccer player is asked how does he know is he in the state of sport form or not.

If I am not in the state of sport form during a game I got only one solution. When I am in the state of sport form – I got three.“ – he responded
But what if the opponent reads all three of them?“ – he was asked again
Well, in that case he receives a goal, because then I do very unexpected move and  pass the ball to my team player, so he has a easy chance to score!

            From this short, but comprehensive, interview, couple of conclusions can be carried out. It should be emphasized that athlete who is in the state of sport from is able to be creative, to create and display  what is later remembered, described and retailed. Beside that, athlete function at the level which is not otherwise accessible to him, he train with such an ease, he easily withstand great physical efforts and solve technical/tactical tasks, he recover quickly, it is very motivated, wish to compete and believe in his own possibilities, he believe in success. 

            Basic components of sport form are physicaltechnicaltactical and psychological (mental) preparedness. Beside them, pedagogical (educational/theoretical) preparedness is usually mentioned.  If those mentioned components are on necessary level, it can be said that the athlete or team is in the state of high readiness.

            It is not a question that high level of preparedness is a basic requirement of sport form. However, sport form and high level of preparedness should not be identified as synonyms. Some athletes or teams can be very well physically, technically, tactically and psychologically prepared, but without being in the state of sport form. Preparedness is the fundamental of sport form, but the state of sport form requires harmony and integration of all of its components. This unity is achieved through competitions, and because of that there is the axiom: There is no sport form without competitions! A lot of elite coaches have such a system of preparations for most important competitions (for example Olympic games) in which they prepare their athletes with participation on numerous competitions.

            Under all normal training and life conditions of an athlete, the level of preparedness, during a short period of time, cannot be substantially changed.  However, athletes often, within very short period of time (for example 7 days) perform very differently: once they perform outstanding and once very poorly. What is the matter, athletes and coaches often question. It is evident that there happened breaking down of harmonic relation between components of sport form or the operative components have changed, which are in contrast to level of preparedness very accessible/liable for faster changes. They happen to be in the realm of psychological (mental) preparation. For example, it is very hard to maintain athlete’s motivation and concentration for every subsequent competition. It is well know that the biggest fear of coaches in team sports (games) are those matches that are „won in advance“. And chess players says that it is the most hardly to win „the game already won“. Beside that, perturbed athlete-athlete, athlete-coach, management-coach, management-athlete etc. relations can also perturb/violate the sport form or even to disable athletes to reach it during the season. In that situation, change of coach (which is mostly done), or some other change,  may sometimes positively affect on the fast re-establishment of the sport for, if the last coach was done a good job on athlete preparation. New coach – „miracle maker - miraculous“, in short period of time cannot substantially improve the level of athlete preparedness (sport form fundamental is built very  long, slowly and patiently) but he can bring the operative components on the necessary level and re-establish their harmonically relation. If the athletes are „uncared – rusty“, or in other word very poorly prepared, the miracles don't happen, apropos, it is impossible to quickly achieve desirable results.  There is a need for great patience, great knowledge even an intuition to bring everything in order. To new coach, beginning of work in the middle of the season is incomparably harder than at the beginning of preparation period, so experienced coaches very carefully chose this options, because the risk is great. In those cases, the basic orientation must be the selection of the most important factors of sport results in concrete sport branch and very directed, carefully dosaged, specialized work. Solving of the larger number of training tasks, typical for preparation period, requires a lot of time, and as a rule, there isn't much of it.

            Every sport branch have differently ranked factors that determine success in it. In cyclical sport branches, like cycling, long distance running, rowing etc., dominant factor of success is appropriate type of endurance, while the tactics contribute much more less. In team sport games or in martial arts, tactics is very important and have equal significance with other important factors (physical, technical and psychological preparedness). In some sport branches, the most important factor is sport technique (skill) etc. Sport form depends on the level of dominant factors, so their development should have great attention in training process.

            It has been noticed that sport form have phasing (cyclical) character. There are three phases that could be identified:

  1. Phase of entrance into the sport form,
  2. Phase of maintenance (relative stability) of sport form and
  3. Phase of temporary lost of sport form.

In phase one, emphasis is on the development of  sport form fundamental, from which quality depends sport form level. In the beginning, with more volume, there is a separately development of physical and technical/tactical qualities of the athlete, but with progression they are more and more incorporated into competition exercises (for example, soccer players play on two goals, judo and karate fighters sparr and fight etc.) Phase of entrance into the sport form lasts differently and it is often dependent on the competition calendar. If it lasts shorter, the shorter will be also the second phase – phase of sport form maintenance. Because of this, strenuous specific work, with larger relative volume of competition exercises in overall volume of training process, can relatively quickly introduce athletes into the state of sport form, but then we cannot count on its longer maintenance. This method is justifiable in the case where the competition season begins with the series of very important competitions, like qualification matches for the European championships in team sport games. In opposite situation, if the major competitions start later in the season, it could easily happen that in the beginning of competition season, athlete (or team) perform very successfully on less important competitions, but perform poorly on the major ones. It is common that among ones that have trained „like never before“, sport form is „depleted“ during the preparatory period and during couple of opening  official competitions, and after that there is only precipitous fall, which is very hard to stop.

From the above written, it can be clearly seen that the phase of entrance into the sport form coincide with preparatory period. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If the coach really control the sport form, depending on the competition calendar, coach can extend the entrance phase on the first part of competition period. In this case, first matches have purpose of preparation and control and lead athletes to higher level of sport form. But, because in some sport branches the points are given on this competitions, this approach have certain risk. Reasonable coaches and athletes know that it is unavoidable to sometime loose on less important competitions to achieve master goal later. There are well know reversed situations from sport practice, where coaches and athletes „attack“ the less important records, that are measured only by statistics, and then „unfortunately“ loose important trophy from objectively inferior opponents.

Determination of the main goal in the season, requires realistic assessment and evaluation of athlete or team capabilities. Athletes of lower level, should pursuit their chance on less important competitions, when they should plan the sport form. It is realistic to assume, that those competitions will have a preparative purpose for elite athletes, and this means it is possible to win them. However, in team sport games, where the point are given on each competitio, this orientation (to win the best for any cost) can be fatal. There is an example of soccer team, rookies in the the first league, who made a series of result surprises. It had a positive point score with the members of „great fours“ – and felt out of the league! On their home games, they lost every game with direct rivals for the league survival, and this lost could not be compensated with the success against better opponents.

The second phase of sport form is also usually called  the phase of relative stability, because the athlete results principally oscillate. It is considered that athletes in cyclical sport branches  (except long distance runners) are in the state of sport form if they achieve results not less than 98%, and that cyclical speed-strength athletes 95-97% of their best result. In the best case, the athlete achieve his best result, best game, best match on the most important competition. It happens that a large number of athletes  achieve their best performances after main competitions, or that team, after a series of matches, thanks to them, enter the state of sport form, but when is already late. Coaches, who are not familiar with principles of sport form development, often state for the news papers that it is pity that the championship is finished, because his team is just now in the state of sport form. Those coaches does not control the processes of sport form development, but it appears beside their will, and as a rule of the thumb, in most unimportant time.

Second phase of sport form usually coincide with competition period. First problem appears if the competition period lasts long, because sport form can only last for 2-2,5 months. For this very reason periodization of sport training is justifiable with two or more shorter competition periods, with in-between rest vital for athlete regeneration and their preparation for second part of competitions. Second problem arises when there are two important parallel competitions, which is the case with cup competitions and regular championship in team sport games. Preparations for cup competitions disturb regular preparations for matches, and put the coach in the dilemma what should be appropriate goal.  Similar problem are preparations for play-off.

It was already emphasised that there is no sport form without competitions, but in the same time competitions „deplet“ sport form. Too much of competitions can negatively influence sport form.

Third phase – the phase of temporary sport form lost principally appears. Sport form is impossible to keep for a prolonged period of time, because for the first reason, to allow athletes to achieve greater level in the following cycle, it is essential to „break-up“ old sport form and build a new one. As a second reason, it is not possible for the organism/body to constantly adapt, during a prolonged period of time, to constant great requests, because this road lead right to over training. Besides that, constant appearance of the same, or similar training or competition content lead to psychological (mental) fatigue. Athletes become anxious, they lost their desire to train and compete, they are hardly motivated, they fatigue much quicker, they fail to solve technical/tactical tasks, they complain about fatigue and insomnia etc. These are all signs of overtraining and unless they are significantly pronounced, the athlete state is reversible and will not going to leave health or sport (results) consequences.

            Someone may ask how come that there are elite athletes that wins most of time. Are they all the time in the state of sport form? Answer should be primary looked/searched in their great talent and hard work, but also in relatively poorer opponents, and because of that, without being in the state of sport form they are capable to win the gross number of their rivals.
            The best world athletes, which have competitions during the whole year (particularly tennis players), prepares from competition to competition mainly using specific exercises and carefully choosing competitions in which they will take a part – apropos, they them self (with coach) create their own personal competition calendar and plan sport form during the season.
We should differ between individual and team sport form.  It is much easier to control individual sport form, because in training process it is possible to individually dosage load,  to regulate relationship between volume and intensity, ratio between general preparation, specific preparation and competition exercise, precision control of the effects of applied training and competition loads etc. However, errors in training process can be hardly corrected. In team sport games, sport form of a team is not a simple summation of individual sport forms.  Team is not the collection of best individuals, but rather a union of individuals that best function as a team. And from this comes, in most cases, understanding of coaches decisions to keep the best player in reserve.   Coach, in team sport games, have an option to substitute the player which is not in the state of sport form with one that is. With this method, it is possible to extend team sport form. With the relation with already mentioned, it is possible to draw one more conclusion: it is possible that team, during a season, because of disharmonious interrelations among athletes, don't event enter the state of sport form  or to be in it for very short. 

            It is very interesting question what should be the guide for a team games coach in planning of the sport form in advance. All of the team members (athletes), are not equally important in this case. Coach should be oriented on those individuals who are the main „carriers“ of major competition load and should control the sport training to allow them to reach state of sport form in the right time, because this is the best guarantee of sport success.

Athlete who is in the state of sport form, can be easily recognized according to following signs:

  1. Quickly and easily starts training session, he easily withstand training loads, especially often changes in intensity;
  2. He is able to perform a specific muscle work on a such high level of strength, speed, endurance and dexterity/coordination/agility  which is not available to him when he is not in the state of sport form;
  3. He is very economic in training, or in other words, he spend much less energy for the same work;
  4. He function at higher level of technical/tactical preparedness; without any problems and very rationally uses all the „arsenal“ of skills he poses;  He  easily switch from one exercise to another and improvise in training and in competition; he make much less errors;
  5. Faster new skill acquisition;
  6. After the training and competition, his body functions recover much faster:
  7. Athlete is in positive emotional state, he got very pronounced desire for exercising, he is in „fighting“ mood, he believes in it own abilities and wish/desire to compete and
  8. Attain better results.

This was the translation of whole chapter regarding sport form, from pages 79. -85. in

Koprivica, V.J. (2001). Osnove sportskog treninga. I deo. Izdanje autora. Beograd.

Literature from the book
  1. Choutka, M., Dovalil, J.: Sportovní trénínk. Olimpia, Praha, 1991.
  2. Ивойлов, А. В.: Соревнования и тренировка спортсмена, Вышэйшая школа, Минск, 1982
  3. Lazarević, Lj.: Psihološka priprema sportista , Fakultet fizičke kulture, Beograd, 1994
  4. Malacko, J.: Osnove sportskog treninga, Izdanje autora, Novi Sad, 1991.
  5. Матвеев, Л. П.: Основы спортивной тренировки. Физкультура и спорт. Москва, 1997
  6. Najšteter, Đ.: Teorija i metodika sportskog treninga, Fakultet za fizičku kulturu. Sarajevo, 1991
  7. Платонов, В. Н.: Адаптация в спорте, Здоров'я, Киев, 1988.
  8. Платонов, В. Н.: Теория спорта, Вища школа, Киев, 1987.
  9. Тер-Ованесян, А., А.: Тер-Ованесян, И., А.: Педагогика спорта, Здоров'я, Киев, 1986
  10.  Желясков, Ц.: Теория и методика на спортната тренировка, Медицина и физкултура,      София, 1986. 

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