Most coaches will agree that in-season strength and power training is critical for maintaining performance in team-sports such as soccer, football, basketball, rugby and so forth. Performance characteristics such as sprinting, rapidly changing direction and jumping are all impacted by lower body strength and power. Failing to address this during the season can therefore result in potential decrements in on-field performance. One must also consider that strength is an important quality that underpins technical aspects of performance, such as landing and change of direction mechanics. When these mechanics break down due to fatigue or insufficient strength, the risk of non-contact injury (e.g., ACL rupture), increases substantially. In collision sports like rugby and football, tackling is a maneuver that can result in injury if correct technique is not used. Currently it is unknown how improvements in strength and/or power effect tackling performance in team sport athletes.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research evaluated how changes in strength and power from pre-season to mid-season effected objectively measured tackling performance in semi-professional Rugby players. A sample of twelve males (~23 years old) performed 1RM squat and bench press tests and upper and lower body power tests (counter-movement jump and explosive push up on force plates) preceding their first game of the competitive season (following pre-season training) and again at week 15 of a 25-week season. In addition to strength and power testing, subjects also were tested for tackling ability. To assess tackling ability, a series of 3 tackles to both left and right sides of the shoulder against an opponent of similar size and stature were performed and recorded. Based on predefined objective criteria, tackling ability was rated (i.e., points given for meeting the criteria for tackle technique).
The results showed the changes in 1RM strength in the squat (both relative and absolute strength) were significantly related to changes in tackling ability (r = 0.70 – 0.73). The individuals who improved their tackling scores either retained or improved their squat strength, while those who saw decrements in their tackling score also saw reductions in squat strength (large effect sizes: ES = >0.80). Therefore, it appears that maintaining or building lower body strength throughout the season also appears to improve tackling ability. This can effect team performance (particularly defensively) and potentially reduce injury risk.
Speranza, M., Gabbett, T. J., Greene, D. A., Johnston, R. D., & Sheppard, J. M. (2016). Changes in rugby league tackling ability during a competitive season: the relationship with strength and power qualities. J Str Cond Res. Ahead of print.