Youth strength and conditioning

Monitoring made easy! How to monitor your youth athletes without buying any equipment! (Part 1)

Have you ever wondered if you were working your athletes too hard? Or if the training session you planned was either too easy, or not difficult enough? Usually to get the sort of information to inform you whether you’re on the money or not, you would have to spend some money on Heart Rate monitors, Global Positioning System (GPS) monitors or something similar.

For example, the picture below shows International Rugby superstar Sonny Bill Williams wearing both of these (no it isn’t a sports bra!). In fact, if you watch most professional football or rugby teams these days, you will usually notice a little pocket in between the shoulders where a GPS unit sits. This helps measure how far the athlete has run overall, as well as how long they walked, jogged or sprinted. This helps to get an idea of how intense their involvement was in a training session or match.

Image result for premier league heart rate monitor
“Say sports bra one more time, I dare you…”

However, if you don’t have the budget to buy the latest Polar heart rate monitor, or a whole Catapult GPS system for your youth team, there is another way you can get an idea of how your players are physically. Enter the Session RPE method. This method is used in numerous sports now including rugby, football and swimming to name a few.
RPE stands for “Rating of Perceived Exertion” and you guessed it – it’s a fancy way of asking how intense you found a training session or match/competition. This is measured using an RPE Scale. Originally, this scale went from 6-20, however it was later modified to be 1-10. You can find two examples of the modified RPE Scale below:
Image result for adapted borg scale
Example 1. This RPE scale is very simple and may be suitable for younger athletes. All it offers is a number from 1-10 and a description of the intensity.

Image result for adapted borg scale
Example 2. This RPE scale is a little more in-depth and may be more suitable for older athletes, endurance athletes, or for coaches to assess if the planned session met the desired training component.

It’s best to use these scales at the conclusion of the session, not in the midst of a set of sprints or your conditioning work!! This would give a falsely high value of intensity for the session. Wait 10-30 minutes until players have cooled down and have time to have a proper perception of the relative intensity. It’s also important to communicate to your athletes that there are no points for being a hero and the whole system is based on honesty. You may find it’s better to get RPE scores individually, rather than collectively as a group, as often this can lead to the “don’t lose face” mentality, when your whole squad miraculously scored it the same!
Once you have collected the RPE scores, all you have to do is multiply the score, by the duration of the session. Keep in mind that you probably don’t want to include the time for the warm up/cool down as that should really be in the 1-3 zone. So for example, let’s say you had a 2 hour training session, minus a 15 minute warm up and cool down. Athlete A scored it an 8, whilst Athlete B scored it a 6. So your total session RPE relates to:
120 (2 hours) – 15 (warm up) – 15 (cool down) = 90 minutes.
Athlete A: 90 minutes x 8RPE = 720 AU (Arbitrary Units).
Athlete B: 90 minutes x 6RPE = 540 AU.
So for this session,  the training load for each athlete was 720 AU for Athlete A and 540 AU for Athlete B. As you collect the data for a whole squad of athletes you will begin to notice how individual perceptions of the session differ and how this changes the overall score for each individual. You may also notice how some athletes consistently score sessions harder than other athletes – this is all part of the joy of individual variation!
It’s best to create a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel (like below) and enter athlete names vertically and the Session-RPE for each training session/competition of the week horizontally across the row. Now, once you have this data for each training session of the week, you can enter a simple function to autosum the Session RPE for the whole week’s sessions to get a perspective of how each athlete found the training week as a whole.
You can see from these scores that John Smith found the training much harder than Aiden Taylor. This may inform you as a coach as to whether Aiden is coasting, or whether John has been going harder than you where aiming for.

That’s it for Part 1! If you found this helpful please do like, share or comment as you see fit!
In the next edition we will explore how coaches can make decisions based on the session and weekly training load data!
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Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion
Use of RPE based training load in soccer
The ecological validity and application of the session-RPE method for quantifying training loads in swimming
Monitoring exercise intensity during resistance training using the session RPE scale

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