This is a question that is a given right? Surely we must always consider how an athlete ‘feels’ about the training process. Or is this an ignorant assumption we make as coaches just because we think we have ‘superior’ knowledge to them in that specific area? I feel the industry as a whole provides a false sense of worth for strength and conditioning coaches and truly misdirects their importance in the bigger picture. I have to mention that I am writing from the perspective of a Team sport program or similar sports that share those inherent skill qualities that determine the outcome of performance. Obviously if you are a coach of a strength dominant sport then your strength is your skill but my principle argument remains the same. Do you ever actually think about how your athlete feels about what you are asking them to do? There are multiple certifications and accreditations for developing physical qualities but like training management exercise selection is only as good as the athletes’ approach to the exercise. Whilst I firmly agree that the physical development of athletes is hugely important it is not the holy grail and it does not decide performance outcome or competition result. It does help but it doesn’t help Jonny Wilkinson kick his goals or Tom Brady throw a touch down pass to win a Super Bowl. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of an athlete.
If you are lucky enough to have the general talent to be selected for an Academy you should start strength and conditioning training at roughly age 12 in Rugby and as young as 10 in professional football. So this is where you start your learning as an athlete as to what strength and conditioning is and what it provides you with as an athlete towards your competition environment. Obviously we can all agree that this is possibly the most important stages of education for these young people psychologically but also physically. So at this stage there isn’t any assumed knowledge and there is no assumption of any past experience. Putty which you can mold but like the statue of David, it takes time to craft. Fast forward 10 years you now have a 22 –year-old professional player on a first-team contract with and assumed training age of 10 years. What I have found as a coach: across those 10 years from academy to full time professional the athlete has changed clubs, had five decent injuries and has had about 10 different strength and conditioning coaches. All of which have conflicting opinions so this professional team sport athlete has a minefield of arguments in their head as to how are you physically prepare yourself sport. How he physically prepares himself to go to work and earn money to live in modern society. This athlete then feels that they have strong idea as to what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ in strength and conditioning and how they need to better prepare themselves for sport. With this there is a certain level of attachment to specific training means that fulfil an inherent trigger aligned to self-efficacy. This is an extremely delicate point to address for optimal progress to be made assuming that this trigger is placed on a non-specific metric. However, this comes back to appreciating the athletes’ perspective. I can only speak from experience, which this is usually the case and habitually just what a particular athlete likes to do. This is the balance between “does it help vs does it hurt”. If both are no, then just mediate. So I strongly argue that if you were to just give them a training program and told them complete this with no arguments or no questions then we are seriously misguided. This does happen a lot and more than you think.
As a coach I try and strive to not being that person. Education is the imparting of information that enables an individual to make decisions as to how they feel about a certain topic and then having the confidence to communicate these concerns. Therefore, as a coach we must be able to have open and honest discussions about training void of bias. When these discussions do occur this is where the real progress made. Over my past five years of coaching with professional sports people and elite level athletes I can safely say that 90% of them do not understand the training process and their bodies do not understand the general motor programming of simple tasks such as a single leg squat and the mechanics of the lateral Shuffle. To this I ask the questions to myself what has this athlete been doing all this time? Who has been coaching them and who allowed these coaches to be responsible for their development? As in 90% of the cases I have a skilled games performer but a novice athlete. This shouldn’t be the case. Therefore, as a coach I have to understand and consider the athletes’ perspective on this. Why are you asking me to do this? Why do I have to do do this? These are some questions that I have been asked. These questions are the gatekeepers to optimal coaching. This is where we revert back to my definition of education and how as coaches we have a responsibility to develop these people in a way that they will take ownership of their own training process. A lot of the time I will reply to these questions with another question. What do you want to achieve? What do you feel that you need to work on? Where do you feel your physical limitations lie as a sportsman? The answers that I will receive from these questions if I have made the athlete comfortable enough within our conversation and relationship will then allow me to dive into training theories and pedagogical study to educate further as far as my own knowledge allow. By having this discussion then the training program actually becomes redundant and only serves as a guide and the map. Principally if I have done my job properly I will understand the athletes’ physiological outputs regarding the demands of training and competition and the athletes’ relevant capacity to handle ‘work’ whilst having an indication as to how well the athlete can move and self orientate around the field of play.
What is the solution? Assume less, talk more, communicate better and leave your ego at the door.