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Coaching Dilemmas

Why Do We Do What We Do?

By Sergei Beliaev, Ph.D.

Coaching profession is a very peculiar thing… It can be highly rewarding for some and hugely disappointing for others.  However, regardless of how it can be viewed by each individual coach, the true significance of this profession is in ability to influence your athletes’ life.  And it is not an exaggeration or overstatement.   This is a reality if you think about your profession.  Just consider the following facts:

  • On average club, high school and collegiate level coach spends more time with each individual athlete on his team then parents or any other teachers and therefore have the most impact in their development process.
  • By teaching children a particular sport you are giving them a life time gift which often translates into lifelong health benefit, passion to physical activity, useful skills, work ethics and appreciation to hard work leading to success.
  • Success in sport often translates into success in life, leading to successful careers, financial stability and exiting life styles.

There is more, but aren’t that three points just enough to justify the importance of coaching profession?  And if the statements above are correct than how do we treat this important profession and what do we do to raise to the opportunities its presents?

Several years ago Richard Quick, at that time a head women’s swim coach at Stanford University, confided to me that in spite of all the Olympic medals his athletes won, he still remembers a few who had similar talent but never reached the top.  According to Richard, that happened simply because he just didn’t have the proper tools he needed to address their weaknesses. Richard honestly thought that it was his personal fault, since he failed to help them achieve the success they deserved. Ruined hopes, unrealized potential, shattered dreams… I saw tears in Richard’s eyes when he told me that.

Richard clearly understood that assisting athletes to reach their personal goals is his personal responsibility.  The question remains though what do we need to know and produce to avoid any possible regrets and achieve the highest efficiency possible in our daily work?

The Pillars of Coaching Profession

There is hardly a standard way how people becoming coaches.  Some enter coaching because of their participation in sport at collegiate and even just at high school levels, others joining profession out of necessity (need to coach their own children, for example) and only very few are professionally trained to become a coach.  Regardless of ways we become coaches, there is standard set of knowledge coaches need to posses and skills to be mastered to be an effective and helpful to their athletes.  Ideally, the knowledge of human physiology, psychology, biochemistry and biomechanics comprise the standard “knowledge set” of an elite coach in addition to the ability to teach and lead athletes on the way to their goals.  Yet one component, which we failed to mention – is coach heart or desire to do everything possible to serve and assist…  This may sounds different simply because many people associate coaching position with power, dominance and even dictatorship.  It is true that every coach needs to be a leader, but at the same time being an educator is arguably more important role.  Ability to teach and receive feed back from the athlete suggests that coach-athlete partnership is required to be effective in coaching profession since coaches’ knowledge alone is useless unless they are accepted and implemented by the athlete.

That brings an interesting dilemma: from one hand coach needs tools to be able to communicate with athletes and influence them, yet from another, the athlete has to be able to report back to the coach and therefore needs some format for meaningful communication.  The efficiency of this process is increasing when “partners” communicate using the same language and data standard.  The more detailed is the message (starting with one set or just its component and ending with the whole training design for the season), the better are the chances that athlete will “buy” into the program, follow coach instruction and provide feed back to coach necessary to make adjustments to a training plan.

While simple on a surface, the ability to establish this communication pattern creates a real difference between good and mediocre program which usually translates into ability of athletes to perform and win.

Tools for Professional Success

To communicate with athletes at level of concepts, numbers and specific goals one should have some support in the form of tools allowing to produce and share coaches’ ideas and goals.   Anything from a simple spread sheet to sophisticated software can be viewed as a coach tool.  The issue here is often not in complexity of the tool used by the coach, but rather in the quality of outcome and attention to details it may offer.  Naturally, we have to trust tools we use and this trust is not coming easy since in most cases we have to rely on either a new technology or somebody’s idea or personal experience, validity of which can not be easily proven due to its novelty or absence of relevancy with your particular situation.   For example, attending presentation made by Olympic coach may give you some good general ideas which can be also totally inappropriate in your high school environment.   By the end of the day you want to receive specific training plans that work for YOUR kids in YOUR environment.

This can be achieved with the help of 3S training design tools.  Based on decades of research and proved by thousands coaches world wide, there is little doubt in their efficiency and accuracy.  The main difference of this tools’ concept – is in fact that they are build by top sport professionals in attempt to assist coaches in their daily tasks.  As such, they are not “technology-to-sport” based, but rather “sport science-to-coach” using the technology to drive and deliver necessary outcome.

Tasks We Perform

The question still remains “why do we need tools”? and what exactly they can do that I can not on my own?  Yet another question often asked is: “do I really need external tools at my level?”  All this are legitimate questions which require analyses and explanation.   We need to start with professional tasks coaches perform on a daily basis.

We need to know our athletes and understand their training needs.  Simple questions like listed below need to be answered:

  • What is appropriate starting season training volume?
  • What initial intensity is appropriate for beginning of the season?
  • What is initial intensity in all strokes, swimming with resistance, fins and paddles?
  • What is the initial distribution of intensity levels (energy zones) by heart rate, time of effort and pace.

We need to plan our work.  The planning usually consists of the following steps and elements:

  • Define total season duration and its phases.
  • Identify training volume for each week of training in progression.  This is necessary for each intensity level as well.  The progression of training loads in each energy zone (by intensity) will define your training strategy.

We need to define intensity progression.  Knowing beginning and end speeds is not enough.   Progression of speed in season – what is important for proper development of adaptive mechanisms.  Usually the following decisions need to be made:

  • Plan future result on specific distance
  • Know expected progression (percent of improvement between beginning season speed and target result).
  • Know progression rate (how fast you need to progress from week to week).  Please note that progression rate is determined by laws of adaptation to physical exercise and IS NOT linear in time (read “Training Design Concepts” article on this issue).

Once training volumes are set and progression is determined it is time to think about training sets which will be most important on different phases of preparation.   Please note that direction and training intensity of each set depends on target (keep time on working distance – by pace), period of rest between repetitions and number of repetitions in the set (total set volume).  There are four major set types and each of them is most effective for achieving maximum effect in specific department responsible for energy production (specific physical ability).   Ideally each training set should be designed to match the threshold of individual adaptation ability.

  • Distribute key training sets (by their influence and recovery time) in each weekly cycle to achieve maximum possible adaptation shift.  This is of course should be achieved WITHOUT risks for overtraining.
  • Monitor progression on a daily / weekly basis.  Keep track of each athlete individual progression and compare it with your season training design.  Make micro corrections where necessary.

This is a short list of most typical tasks each coach has to execute as part of his duty (and please refer to the opening statement of this article defining the coaching profession mission).  Theoretically it is possible to execute all of the listed above tasks if you have time and knowledge how to do that.  However, 3S tools can produce all the answers in minutes for every athlete on your team…

Two hundred years ago people KNEW that the world is flat…  Twenty years ago coaches KNEW that excessive volumes and “hard work” will propel their athletes to the top.  Today, we know better and we are armed with tools to both prove it and assist anybody in the profession to take advantage of contemporary knowledge.

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