This is an excerpt from Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance by Iñigo Mujika.
Our strategy before Sydney 2000 was to peak physically, mentally, tactically, technically, and in terms of our cooperation and team dynamics. That is, we worked to be at our peak in every aspect of the game during the tournament, with a special emphasis on the necessity to be in the best position to play at the end of the tournament. In a team event with support staff in double figures and 16 players, this is not easily controlled or supervised, and it requires real vigilance by all team members to ensure that some are not left behind and all are included in the plans and are on the "same page" as teammates. Equally, all must be aware of each other’s performance strengths and weaknesses.
Every coach aims to optimize performance at the major events and develops the tapering and peaking strategy to achieve this. During the years before the Sydney 2000 Olympics, we played out various scenarios to ensure we had our group ready for the last 2 weeks in September. Our final, if we made it, would be September 29. Starting on the 17th we would be required to play 8 matches in 13 days . . . the field hockey tournament at the Olympics is an endurance event as much as anything else!
6 Months Out
Our training regime for the 6 months prior to the games was structured around four game-simulating sessions per week. At these sessions, intensity was tracked through heart rate monitors and lactate measurements to ensure we matched elite game levels of physical output. We understood what the requirements of the game were because for years we had collected heart rate data from our international matches. We constantly evaluated training intensity in these sessions to ensure we exceeded match requirements.
We used a volume-intensity cycle three times during the specific preparation phase of 23 weeks. This was preceded by a regeneration phase at the end of the previous year’s activities, and then through December 1999 and January 2000 there was a general preparation phase to prepare for the intense program ahead. The players were relocated from their various home bases to a single, central base at the beginning of February 2000 and the general preparation phase continued into March.
The specific preparation program then began, and as already indicated we used a volume-intensity cycle three times during that program. The final taper duration was longer than that of the two previous phases, because the focus was more on ensuring that the players carried limited structural injuries and fatigue into the competition. We knew by then that their physical capability under maximum load returned after 12 to 16 days of light work and within 3 to 5 days if one or two hard sessions (game simulations) were held during this time.
Throughout the specific preparation phase we trained intensively for segments of 3 to 4 weeks followed by a competition phase and then rest, and so the players were accustomed to these phases and workloads. Generally, we lightened the loads prior to competition phases and we were well aware of the players’ capacity to return to maximum physical capability.