As I am having a busy time of things at the moment, I thought I would help fill the void on this blog by posting this article in three parts (here is part II & part III).
The Responsibilities of the Elite Coach: Embracing the Science of Coaching
Meg Stone East Tennessee State University
Howard Gray East Tennessee State University
“Those enamored of the practice without SCIENCE, are like a pilot who goes into a ship without a rudder or compass and never has any certainty of where he is going.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
“Having mastered the science of coaching, the coach must then take that knowledge and master the ART of coaching and all that encompasses.”
- Mike Stone, Director of the Sport Science Laboratory, East Tennessee State University
Coaches have a broad range of responsibilities that fall under their remit. In addition to the more obvious role in teaching technical and tactical skills, coaches are involved in other forms of player and team development, planning, and administrative duties. Coaches are confronted with everything from developing character, team management issues, teaching tactical and technical skills, promoting sportsmanship and character development, communicating with parents, and building team culture.
The Sport Science Coaching Dilemma
At all levels, and particularly the elite level, there is a constant tug of war between the technical/tactical elements, and the physiological requirements of the sport. Without a good understanding of the physiology behind performance (and improving performance), it is impossible to make educated decisions about training and competition. It is this principle that drives the need for better coach education in sport science.
Coaches today are presented with a plethora of information from a number of avenues including journals, books, DVD’s, websites, forums, and social media. While the readiness of potentially relevant material in the right hands could be a huge positive to coaching, it can also be a dangerous thing. The influence of the fitness industry, in particular, represents a threat to sports coaching and conditioning. The money involved in corporate and personal fitness has led to movements and trends in training that have no scientific basis. Fads, gimmicks, bands, belts, chains, balls, and boards have not only become the norm when concerning the general population, but have seeped into sports and coaching.
With such a bewildering amount of information available to coaches, it becomes of utmost importance to have an evidence-based approach to planning, coaching, monitoring, and evaluating practice, rather than a random in immediate gains which are mostly unsustainable. Elite level sport cannot afford the time to try things; evidence-based practice must be the norm. Coach Yoda said it best: “do not try, do.”
A popular approach is to copy what someone else is doing or has done. For example, a national championship university did a certain method of training when they won the championship. Can we try it? It is not uncommon to have this type of approach from the head sport coach. In this situation one is reminded of the term, “Monkey see, monkey do.” This saying popped up in the 1920s referring to the learning of a process without understanding of why it works or understanding the potential outcomes.
Copy-cat coaching or coaching the way “my coach coached me” approach can be said to fall in traditional or hearsay method of coaching. By understanding the science behind the training program, coaches can be truly innovative and give informed recommendations which are based on evidence.
Coach education should be the mainstay of driving performances forward and upwards, reflecting both scope and depth of improvement as a profession. Any true profession has a recognized body of evidence. Why should coaching be any different? This is especially true if coaches want more respect in our roles alongside educators or sports medicine staff.
Sport in the United States has been hampered by a lack of understanding of what sport science is and how it can impact activities at university athletic departments, education systems, NGBs, and professional teams. This has been caused by:
• The sport scientists themselves relating information in difficult to understand scientific terms to the coach.
• An exercise physiologist masquerading as a sport scientist.
• Lack of education of the coach and how to use a sport scientist.
• Biomechanists, physiologists, psychologists, and coaches not willing to take a core group of sport-science classes.
• The people involved with developing sport performance not reading similar journals or going to the same conferences, so they never truly interact regarding their mutual areas of expertise. This lack of interaction has a negative effect on the total training process the coach must oversee.
Understanding the Role of Sport Science in Developing Sport Performance
The basis of the relationship between the sport scientist and coach has to be centred on the athlete and improving performance. Utilizing sport science in improving coaching practice is not about collecting data for publication. The sport scientist needs to have a close relationship with the head coach, and should be present at every workout and training session to allow for day-to-day observation of the training process, monitoring the athlete and the training stimuli, and testing for outcomes. This will allow the sport scientist to gain sufficient experience in working with national teams or ranked athletes to know when to and when not to apply a training stimulus. Training responses naturally are different between elite and recreational athletes. As a result, the typical health studies should not be mistakenly applied to high performance sport.
Applied sport science in elite sport training follows a different path than academic based studies. It is impossible to use the standard pre- and post-test design due to the difficulty in getting comparable control groups, and every elite athlete being unique by definition. Cutting edge claims are often not cutting edge. Blindly following fashionable trends, and the use of buzzwords and jargon leads to the rise of sports guruism, and the athlete ultimately wonders which way to turn. The knowledge of the coach and/or sport scientist comes into play here. Also important in the coach-sport scientist relationship is a quick turnaround of understandable data and findings, allowing the coach to respond swiftly and modify training accordingly. Without this, and the other factors discussed, science is of little or no use.