Hockey players

How to make the most of your off-season (whatever your sport!)

luke denham sports therapist

Luke Denham
Clinic Lead Practitioner
Sports Therapist

If you enjoy participating in a seasonal sport as part of a team or individual event, such as football, hockey, rugby or netball, you will pass through times of the year with varying training loads. The off-season, where you have reached the end of your fixtures, gives you an opportunity to rest, recover, resolve any repeat niggles or injuries, and prepare for the season ahead.

Personally, as I head towards the end of a busy rugby season, I look forward to some time off and my pre-season. It provides me with a great opportunity to fully rehabilitate my injuries, work on elements of my game that I didn’t get to prioritise during the season, to develop and learn new skills.

Over my years working in the health and fitness industry as a Sports Therapy Practitioner with a wide variety of sports people, I have come to learn about the different ways in which we can best utilise our time to get the most out of structured breaks during a busy sporting calendar.

Below I explain my top 4 priorities for the off-season.

Rest and recovery

Rest and recovery is one of the most important aspects of your off-season. Using your time wisely can help to improve your overall performance and reduce the risk of injury. Your rest and recovery in the off-season should comprise of a complete and immediate break, followed by a more active component of rest and recovery.

An immediate and complete break at the end of a season can be a great way to reset yourself. Personally, I like to take a week or two away from training, where I don’t worry too much about hitting the gym or going for a run. I might fill my time with some nice walks or stretching, but I like to have a short break from everything before starting over. But this is not for a prolonged period of time as falling out of routine can have its challenges, so I never like to leave it too long before I get back into a training schedule. We certainly advise against stopping all activity for extended periods – it can lead to a loss of fitness, motivation, and overall well-being, especially if you enjoy being active. Take a little time to yourself, but don’t lose touch with your goals.

Following a short break, we can move to a more active rest and recovery phase. Enjoying low-impact variations of our training specifics, for example, a long-distance runner may take a break from pounding the pavement and get themselves in the pool or on a bike. This variation can be a great way to give your body a rest yet still maintain fitness levels.

Injury management

We all know that big injuries are the bane of our sporting lives; they happen, it’s just the nature of sport. However, we are sometimes a little guilty of putting up with the aches and pains that are more on the minor side of the injury scale, especially towards the end of a season, which is completely understandable. You have worked hard all season, and having the mindset that a niggly Achilles or groin strain won’t get in the way of you finishing off the season is quite okay, but the off-season gives you a great opportunity to work on those repeat problems that have been getting in the way and are at risk of worsening if they aren’t resolved.

The 5 most common sports injuries that we rehabilitate in the off-season are:

  • Groin strain
  • Hamstring strain or hamstring tear
  • Sports hernia
  • Achilles strain
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis

Take the time during your off-season to seek help from a physiotherapist, sports therapist or sports rehabilitator. They can get to the origin of the issue and advise you on exercises to make the best use of the time you have to resolve the issue.

Upskilling and game development

Seeking help can be a game changer, and your off-season is a great opportunity to improve your performance. However, as an athlete, you can’t be expected to know and understand everything that you need to work on in relation to your sport, so if the option is there, ask for help and advice.

I like to find a little time with my coach at the end of a season and discuss three specific areas to work on with my game. These can be anything from fitness-related goals to game management or even adding a new skill etc. It allows you to create a specific focus within your off-season and training.
Having the support of your coach, sports therapist, physio, or rehabilitator can be an invaluable tool to help you improve all aspects of your performance. They can help you to set targets and goals and keep you on track with training and load management.

The off-season is the ideal time to develop parts of your game that require time and consistency. Learning new skills and working on specific aspects of your sport-specific fitness can be tricky in the middle of a season, especially when managing training loads, potential knocks and bumps, and all the other parts of training you have to work on. Use your time wisely to find areas of your performance that both you and your coach want to improve, and work hard at it.

Gaining strength from personal reflection

It is easy to think of strength as just a physical attribute, but the off-season is also the perfect time to develop psychological strength. Reflection is a fantastic tool to help us identify areas we wish to strengthen. Looking back over the previous season and reviewing situations where we may have performed better both physically and mentally can really help you develop as an athlete.

Take team sports for example, was there a scenario during your football game where your opposite number got inside your head and impacted your performance? Was this to do with them making digs at you or trying to wind you up, if so, could this be linked to mental strength and having the ability to block this out? Understanding how this might have negatively or positively impacted you during the game or event will help you learn from the situation and overcome this problem if it happens again. On the flip side; did your mental strength take a bashing through a lack of confidence if you were muscled off of the ball? In which case, this may be more to do with your physical strength, but then your mental strength fed off this situation. Reflecting upon the link between these two types of strength can help you develop your overall performance and strengthen you as an athlete.

Need some help?

If you would like some support in your off-season, we would love to buddy up with you! Our sports therapists and rehabilitators, physios and osteopaths offer injury diagnosis and rehab sessions, sport-specific performance screening and sports massage.

Get in touch to see how we can help.