Markus Baur: training in a game specific-way
After a four-week break, we started our preparation with performance diagnostics and medical tests. Already in the first week, we had a test match against a lower-class team, but we regarded it more as a 30-minute intensive training for each player. After that, strength building, endurance training and handball-specific training began. All of our endurance sessions are indoors, where we deliberately choose different levels of exertion and train in a game-specific way. We only go running outside once or twice in the whole preparation.
The only exception is our boot camp, where we prepare for our extreme high-speed-game with hard interval training, for example. With the help of Kinexon's technology, we always have an exact picture of the load for each individual player, and we also use other data collection programmes to control the load individually. In parallel, our players fill out questionnaires after each day about their own feeling of exertion and also have their own digital platform to view all the data.
Our athletics coach from the University of Stuttgart and the Stuttgart Olympic Training Centre draws up the training plans together with the rest of the coaching staff, so that we have an eight-eye principle and a broad basis of data when planning each training session. By the way, the players don't see the data as a control, but as a support. The closer we get to the first match day, the more focus we then have on speed training.
As far as tactics are concerned, the new players should first find their role. There is no point in forcing a team completely into a concept, but the players should grow into the team and be used according to their strengths. In addition, they repeatedly receive video sequences with the most important tactical things via their data platform, which they evaluate and implement on their own responsibility.
Per Johannson: allow players more time to get used to training
In contrast to other countries, Scandinavian coaches prefer a different style of pre-season preparation. In the first two or three weeks our players do not have any ball in their hands. It is all about physical and athletic preparation, like focusing on strengthening the knees and shoulders. In Scandinavia, we start slower and we allow the players more time to get their bodies used to training after their break.
But this includes an individual preparation in the last two weeks before the official day one of the preparation. After two or three weeks without any training, they get homework to be done, mostly with stabilisation and endurance sessions. But as I worked in several parts of Europe, I know that the culture of how to return to the preparation start is quite different, the individual level varies a lot. So, sometimes it takes longer to bring all players to the same physical level.
The basis of success for the whole season is founded in the preparation, therefore you should give the players the time they need - but this is all a matter of the coaches. It is not only about training sessions, tactics and performance in the pre-season, but also about more generic matters, like how the players should behave in certain situations or the culture inside the team. And you need to find a balance of potential ups and downs in the whole season. In some Eastern European countries the next match is always a do-or-die match, you cannot put this permanent pressure on players.
Markus Baur: intense pre-testing to identify deficits
Our pre-season preparation already started at the end of last season with a performance diagnosis of all our players including all new arrivals. We wanted to identify all deficits and also see where the players stand in comparison to the rest. This holds especially true for our three newcomers who had not played in the Bundesliga before.
With this medical check, we have a dataset, especially to prevent injuries. For example, tests were carried out in terms of strength, joint mobility and isokinetics. This resulted in individual training plans for the last two weeks before the start of preparation. So all the players had their plans for what they had to do on up to five days a week.
With the focus on prevention, the first three days of the actual preparation for the season were spent on medical tests and performance diagnostics. For all players who have been with the club for a longer period of time, this also allowed us to compare long-term data and analyse their status. All training sessions in the current preparation phase include elements for strengthening, for example, the ankles, and flexibility with a view to injury prevention.
Even though this season is a very long one with the 2024 Olympic Games, we have not changed our preparation. But intensity will of course become an issue for the players. We don't play internationally in the new season, but all Bundesliga players who make it to the finals of the EHF Champions League and European League have 55 games to play with the club alone, plus more than 30 games with the national teams – that's a lot, and that's almost without a break.
Per Johansson: communication between coaches is key to respecting players
The most important thing in terms of injury prevention is that all coaches must respect the players and their bodies. Club coaches and national team coaches have a completely different approach to the season goals and when the players should bring their highest performing level. Therefore, an intense communication between all sides – clubs and national teams, including their athletic coaches, team doctors and physiotherapists – is needed.
Maybe the club starts the season with a super-cup match you should never lose and therefore the coaches set high expectations quite early. On the other hand, I, as national team coach, want to have the players at 100 per cent in December for the World Championship, and then in spring for the Olympic qualification tournaments and then hopefully for the Olympic Games.
But you cannot bring full performance from August to August without having a break, therefore injury prevention starts with the cooperation of all coaches involved and constant exchanges about the shape of any individual player already in preparation. If I know from a club that a player needs some days to recover even during our training, she will get it. And I hope that the club coach considers the same to keep the player as fit as possible through this extremely long season. We need to have mutual respect, and mainly have respect for the players’ needs. And clubs should make use of expertise of the national teams as while not every club has an athletic coach or other experts, the national teams have them.
Any training concepts need to be reviewed for one purpose: what does it bring for handball? If an athletic coach endorses weightlifting in the preparation, he has to prove to the whole staff that this is really needed. All training sessions need to be connected. The athletic coach needs to know about all requirements of the head coach in terms of his tactical toolbox. For example: if I focus on high-speed attacks, the players must be extremely quick; if I focus on defence, they need to be physically stronger to be in the shape to stand one minute of defending. And of course the athletic coaches need to know the requirements of all different positions, as a back court player needs different training than a wing.
The use of data makes training sessions transparent and gives an individual view of the workload, but a player knows much more about his body than any data can show – so always listen to the players and their feelings. And then identify the data which is really relevant, as currently you can have millions of data points.
In the end, a top player has to play up to 90 matches in the next season. Therefore the national team coach should not look only at his 35 games, and the club coach at his 55 games. We have to see the players overall, so always focus on the players.