A general overview of a competitive training year is typically broken up into three distinct periods: the off-season, pre-season and in-season. The off-season is typically used to build muscular size and strength and in some cases, enhancement of general work capacity. The pre-season tends to have more focus on conditioning and sport specific abilities (change of direction, reactive strength/power, etc.). The in-season program is commonly designed to maintain strength, power and fitness throughout the competitive season.
The concept of training for maintenance during the in-season may significantly be holding a team back from performing to their potential. The typical rationale for this philosophy is simply that the athletes are being taxed from competitions, practices and other stressors and thus it is impossible for them to handle and adapt to a persistently greater training stimulus. Though training and non-training related stressors are certainly important to be mindful of, ample research exists that shows that athletes can and do get stronger, faster and more explosive during the in-season.
For example, a new study published in the Journal of Athletic Enhancement evaluated changes in various performance markers over a 24 week competitive season in adult male lacrosse players. 20 m sprint times (with 5 and 10 m splits), change of direction, countermovement jump and squat jump were evaluated at 4 different time points throughout the season (1 – week 1, 2 – week 6, 3 – week 15, 4 – week 24). Throughout the season, athletes were involved in a periodized in-season strength and conditioning program designed to improve performance markers.
The results showed that 20 m times significantly improved from 1 – 4 (mean times of 3.08 s at 1 to 2.98 s at 4). Left and right leg changes of direction times also showed significant improvements over the course of the season. With the exception of a 2 cm decrease in squat jump height between 1 -2, there were no significant changes in the jump variables. The authors suggest that coaches should place emphasis on performance development and improvement in-season as opposed to maintenance.
Thomas, C., Mather, D., & Comfort, P. (2014). Changes in sprint, change of direction and jump performance during a competitive season in male lacrosse players. Journal of Athletic Enhancement, 3(5), 1-8.