One of the first decisions a club’s coaching staff must take is the design of pre-season training. Decisions need to be made in regard to what exercises should be incorporated, the number of sessions, the opponents and many other factors. In short, the coaching staff must develop and adjust the training/competition load which ensures that the team starts the season in an ideal state of physical fitness. However, are we interested in achieving the best possible physical fitness for the first match of the season? Or should we opt for a less intense pre-season load design, considering that we will be competing for a total of nine months? Without a doubt, this is a crucial decision to take. Debate among coaches is intense. It is argued that the results achieved in the first matches of the season can have a positive impact on a team’s final ranking in the championship. On the other hand, it is said that achieving optimal physical fitness too soon can cause problems in the second round of competition.
There are a number of studies that have focused on football1,2 and handball3 and which can provide further insights into this debate. These studies analysed how the results obtained from the first five matches in a domestic league compared with a team’s final position and examined whether the clubs’ budget influenced the relationship. The results showed that the impact of the first few rounds of competition is not the same for all teams. For teams with the smallest budgets, their position in Round 5 is statistically significant (p<0.01) in relation to their final ranking, with the expected finding that the better the position of a team in Round 5, the better its final classification in the competition. The smaller the club’s budget, the stronger this effect is. For teams with larger budgets, the position held in Round 5 had no impact on their final ranking. The results are similar for the Italian A Series, the Spanish League, the English Premier League, the French League and the German Bundesliga.
For teams with little economic resources, a run of positive results at the beginning of a season seems to provide players with a sense of security and to confirm they are on the right track (a team is a state of mind, some trainers say). For teams with more financial resources, perhaps the presence of the best players in their ranks will allow a series of bad results to be modified throughout the season.
The incredible talent of these athletes means that their effectiveness depends more on their perception of control over the situation and their personal attribution of talent, rather than on immediate or more recent achievements.
The practical implications of these findings for training are:
For teams with small budgets, as well as using the pre-season for testing (alternating players in preparatory matches and friendly fixtures, experimenting with tactical plans and match systems, etc.) and “measuring their strength against other teams”.The coaching staff must also focus on:
- Trying to achieve tactical-technical fitness in the fastest way possible, so that the team starts the season with the ability to perform at their highest level.
- Selecting appropriate opponents in preparatory matches in order to reinforce perceived self-efficacy, since there is a greater probability of winning against weaker teams (teams from other categories or divisions, teams who have typically ranked lower, etc.). In other words, the pre-season should be designed with a focus on winning from the start.
- Proposing intervention strategies that improve levels of collective self-efficacy.
For teams with large budgets, the design of pre-season training loads does not need to focus solely on the rapid development of players in order to reach the first match with the highest level of physical fitness. These teams will be able to win their first few matches even if the players don’t have the best possible individual physical fitness. It is also important to consider the end of the season. Furthermore, many of these players will have had very little rest during their holidays due to international commitments with their respective national teams.
In any case, it is important to remember that every situation is unique and will always require its own specific decisions.
Carlos Lago Peñas
 Lago, C & Casáis, L (2010). La influencia de los resultados iniciales en la clasificación final de los equipos en el fútbol de alto nivel. Revista de Psicología del Deporte. 19(2): 175-185.
 Lago-Peñas, C & Sampaio, J. (2015). Just how important is a good season start? Overall team performance and financial budget of elite soccer clubs. Journal of Sports Sciences. 33(12): 1214-1218.
 Lago-Peñas, C.; Fernández-Villarino, M.; González-García, I.; Sánchez-Fernández, P & Sampaio, J. (2016). The impact of a good season start on team performance in elite handball. Journal of Human Kinetics. 50(1): 195-202.
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