Rethinking Periodization – Part Two


The United States is no different than any other country in that sport is a reflection of the socio-cultural milieu in which it exists. For many years up to 1976 the United States was able to dominate the world in athletic competition. The basis of our “non system” was a well-defined comprehensive physical education program. Physical education was mandatory in the schools from K-12. The physical education programs provided a cadre of trained coaches well founded in the principles of pedagogy. Planning is inherent in good pedagogy in the form of a “lesson plan.”

We also did not suffer the ravages of war in our country. Our infrastructure was actually modernized and improved by the war effort. Comparatively we did not suffer the same loss of life as the European counties, especially among the civilian population. This gave us a large healthy pool of talent to choose from. We also had a well-defined competitive sport structure based on interscholastic competition culminating in collegiate competition for the more talented. This encompassed all sports, but did not include significant female participation because of antiquated beliefs on the limitations of the female to train and compete. These factors all contributed to our dominance in international sport.

In the US Periodization was not formalized and articulated as such. There certainly was not an overall national plan in any sport. Our training year was loosely divided into off-season, pre-season and in-season. The top coaches certainly had command of the concept of planning. Bill Bowerman, the track and Field coach at the University of Oregon, organized all his training in fourteen and twenty-one day cycles. In his system the training year was divided into three month periods with specific objectives for each period. A cornerstone of his system was the hard easy principle that took into account the unity of work and rest. (Walsh, 1983) In swimming, Doc Counsilman at University of Indiana, certainly had command of an overall annual plan based on physiological concepts. The number of workouts per week, dry-land exercises, total time and distance per week, the type of training and time of sets was planned for each month. (Counsilman, 1977) Dean Smith, former basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, had detailed daily practice plans which were the basis of his program. These were derived from a master plan for the year as well as a weekly plan. (Smith, 1999) All these coaches are icons in the American “non-system” who used the principles of what came to be called Periodization. The common thread is that among these coaches is that they had formal training as teachers. That was the norm for coaches. Planning was an essential part of their pedagogical training. They also recognized that planning was essential for success.

The bottom line is that for a long time our “non-system” served us quite well. What happened? The first thing that changed was the erosion of mandatory physical education to the point where today there is only one state that has mandatory physical education K- 12. The most obvious impact is that youngsters are no longer exposed to systematic physical activity. They are no longer taught basic movement or sport skills as part of an organized curriculum. What we failed to notice is that because physical education was no longer mandatory that less physical education teachers were being hired. The physical education teacher made up the pool of trained coaches. Then there came an increased emphasis on academic achievement to the exclusion of physical education. In addition there were budget cuts due to declining enrollment and tax cuts. Therefore less qualified coaches were hired in the schools. Club sports began to take the place of school sports. These coaches had no educational requirement. Teacher training colleges changed their mission from teaching to research. Title IX put an increased burden on the schools because in many sports it was now necessary to field two teams instead of one. This served to further deplete the pool of trained coaches creating an obvious staffing problem. These problems are a reality in the United States today.
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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