Organized Chaos in Late Specialization Team Sports: Weekly Training Loads of Elite Adolescent Rugby Union Players

Phibbs, P. J.; Jones, B.; Roe, G.; Read, D. B.; Darrall-Jones, J.; Weakley, J.; Rock, A.; Till, K.

The aim of this study was to assess the mean weekly training load (TL) of elite adolescent rugby union players participating in multiple teams and examine differences between playing positions.

Twenty elite male adolescent rugby union players, with an average age of 17.4 years, were recruited from a regional academy and categorized by playing position: forwards (n = 10) and backs (n = 10). Global positioning system (GPS) and accelerometer microtechnology were utilized to quantify external TL, while session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE) was used to quantify internal TL during all sessions throughout a 10-week in-season period.

The study analyzed a total of 97 complete observations (5 weeks per participant on average). Mean weekly sRPE was recorded as 1,217 arbitrary units (AU), with a coefficient of variation (CV) of 30%. Total distance covered (TD) averaged at 11,629 meters (CV = 30%), and PlayerLoad (PL) was 1,124 AU (CV = 29%). Within-subject CV ranged between 5% and 78% for sRPE, 24% and 82% for TD, and 19% and 84% for PL.

Comparing positions, mean TD (13,063 vs. 10,195 meters) and PL (1,246 vs. 1,002 AU) were both likely greater for backs compared with forwards, with moderate effect sizes. However, differences in sRPE were unclear, with small effect sizes.

Despite relatively low mean internal TLs and volumes, external TLs were higher than previously reported during preseason and in-season periods in senior professional players. The study also highlighted large between-subject and within-subject variation in weekly TL, suggesting a chaotic training system for these elite adolescent rugby players.

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