By John Cissick

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"Needs analysis" refers to the work that is done before writing out an athlete's annual plan. This is the period of time when a coach systematically decides what the athlete needs to develop and prioritizes those qualities for the upcoming plan. This is done by examining the needs of the athlete's event and then by examining how the particular athlete compares to the needs of his or her event. This article will describe how to examine an event's needs and then how to figure out how the athlete measures up to those needs.


     When examining a specific event, one needs to look at how the following contribute to its performance:

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     Determining which muscles are involved in an event will help us prioritize what needs to be developed during a conditioning program. We know that, in general, track events involve the muscles of the lower body, with the abdominal/lower back muscles being important for posture, and the muscles of the upper body adding to the speed of movement.
     Track events also involve exerting force against the ground. This means that track event conditioning programs should primarily focus on lower body/core training. They should also consist of training those muscles in a way that forces them to exert force against the ground (i.e., squats, snatches, cleans, etc.).
     Field events, in general, involve the muscles of the entire body working together in a precise sequence. They also involve exerting force against the ground. Field event conditioning programs are going to have to develop most of the major muscles of the body and train them in a way that forces them to work together and exert force against the ground.
     Understanding the energy system(s) involved in an event will help us determine what kind of volume, intensity, and rest/recovery are necessary in an athlete's training. By developing the correct energy system(s), we will be conducting training in a way that is designed to enhance the athlete's performance.
     The other reason this is important is that there are only so many hours in the day. Focusing on the correct energy system(s) will allow us to focus on what is important during training.
     For example, throws are primarily going to be fueled by the breakdown of ATP. This means that the majority of a thrower's training should be focused on short-duration, high-intensity work that allows complete recovery. Increasing aerobic capacity would not be helpful to a thrower's performance and might take away from it.
     Speed of movement is an important concept to understand. Training athletes with predominately slow exercises will result in their being slow in competition. This is not to say that slower exercises have no place in a conditioning program; they do. However, if you want athletes to be fast and explosive, you will have to train them in this manner.
     For example, by studying the events our athletes participate in, we know that a 100-meter sprinter is going to have a fast stride frequency. We know that this will be important for improving his or her time in the 100. How can this component be improved by training? Can barbell/ dumbbell exercises help? What about plyometrics? What about technique drills ?
     A final thing to consider about track & field events is whether they have specific or unusual needs. For example, do they involve a blocking action on one side of the body? If they do, this may indicate that some one-sided training (e.g., split squats, lunges, split snatches/cleans/jerks, etc.) is necessary. Do athletes in the sport have a tendency to suffer injuries to certain body areas (e.g., hamstrings)? This may indicate that conditioning/technique attention may be necessary to prevent this from happening. By understanding what specific needs a sport has, we will be able to design more effective pro- grams for our athletes.


By taking the time to examine an event and what is involved in its execution, we may amass information to help us make decisions about what qualities we would like to see in our athletes. Once we first understand what qualities we are looking for, we may then determine if our athletes have them. How do our athletes measure up to the qualities that the event requires?
     When examining an athlete, look at the following areas:

     When it comes to technical mastery of the athlete's event, there are two questions we should consider . First, how close is the athlete's actual technique to "ideal" technique? Second, how important is technical mastery for this particular athlete?
     We know that poor technique may hinder performance. For ex- ample, are the sprinters bent double at the waist while running? Do they run by flailing their arms out to the sides of their body? These are just some examples of how bad technique can interfere with performance on an event. Improving technique can also prevent the injuries that would be caused by bad technique. This is especially critical in conditioning exercises.
     We know that good technique is important to an athlete's performance. What we need to consider is how important is better technical mastery for a particular athlete? Age and level of development will help us deter- mine this. For example, is it important to coach all the finer points of technique to middle school kids? What about to collegiate-level athletes? What about to Olympians?
     If conditioning is performed properly it can make muscles larger and stronger. It can make the body more explosive, develop muscles and joints that may typically be injured, and it can be timed in such a way that it insures the athlete is at his or her physical best during certain competitions.
     When it comes to an effective conditioning program, we need to make a number of decisions:

   By understanding the event for which we are training, we will know which muscles are involved in its performance. We will know what energy systems are involved in it. We will know what the speed of movement is, and we will understand what special needs (if any) the sport may have.



Once we know what physical characteristics we need to develop, it is time to select our exercises. We want to select exercises that give us the most benefit for the smallest amount of time involvement. Generally those are going to be multi-joint, free weight exercises that use most of the muscles of the body.
     Examples include squats, lunges, Olympic-Iift variations, presses, etc. Including things like jumps, hops, and bounds to develop explosiveness in the lower body and throws with medicine balls or other implements for upper body explosiveness and core training will also have a positive effect on the athlete. The idea is to select exercises and modes of exercise to develop those qualities that are essential to great performance and to injury prevention.



Understanding what physical characteristics are necessary for the sport will also help us determine what tests we should select to evaluate the athlete's fitness level. This is important because it can tell us whether the athlete is making progress through training, whether the athlete is over-trained, etc.


Much of what has been written so far in this article assumes a healthy athlete. Unfortunately, given the nature of athletics, this is not always going to be the case. The athlete's health is an important consideration when designing the annual plan. Here are some things to consider about an athlete's health:

     If the athlete is not currently healthy then we must modify the training program accordingly. We may need to reduce the intensity and volume of his or her training or we may need to focus on rehabilitation instead of training for the sport.
     If the athlete has a history of injuries, then this will indicate that modifications may be necessary to the athlete' s training. For example, if an athlete has chronic hamstring injuries then more time may need to be spent with stretching that muscle group. More time may need to be spent with things like heat, ice, and massage to that muscle group and with strengthening that muscle group.


Technique, conditioning, and health are all important things to consider before drawing up the annual plan. Another important consideration is the athlete's performance from the previous year .
     If we have kept records of the athlete's training, then his or her performance can tell us a great deal about our plan and its effects. When examining last year's performance, consider:

     If the athlete did not peak at the proper time (i.e., too early or too late), then that would indicate that some- thing was off in our plan. Perhaps we backed off too soon before a competition or perhaps we did not back off soon enough. Perhaps we reduced the volume and intensity too much or not enough. If the athlete did not peak at the right time, when did he or she peak? Why did they peak then? These are things that can help you in de- signing the current year's plan.
      If the athlete was overtrained, then that would indicate that either the training was excessive, the athlete was not getting enough rest/recovery, or both. If the athlete had a death in the family, broke up with his/her significant other, and was up until 4 a.m. studying for finals in the two weeks before the big meet, it would not be surprising that performance suffered.
     On the other hand, if the athlete's performance suffered after dramatically increasing the volume and/or intensity, then that probably indicates that the athlete is unable to tolerate those loads.
     Technique, conditioning, the athlete's health, and the athlete's previous performance are all factors that will help to determine the success of an athlete's season and your training program. The purpose of the needs analysis is to force the coach to sit down and think about what is necessary for success. Once that has been determined, decide where the athlete is and what can be done to make him or her successful.



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