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Sunday, 22 August 2010

The responsibilities of the elite coach: embracing the science of coaching (part II)

This is Part II of a three part series, here is part I and part III

Part II:

Areas of Sport Science Critical to Development of Sport Performance
There are various areas of science that underpin what coaches can do to serve their athletes, and as discussed, having a greater understanding of these fields of study can only help provide better programs and coaching practice. The following are some of the areas identified as sport science and surely must be within the coach’s body of knowledge.

Having a greater understanding of the technical aspects of certain strength training lifts, such as the Olympic movements, can help coaches relate training to the field or court of play. The joint angle, forces applied, and speed of movement are key components of specificity. The coach will then have a better understanding of these lifts and why they are so important and beneficial to all sports performance.

Figures 1 & 2: The 125°-135° knee angle in training, and applied in competition.

Sport Physiology
Knowledge of sport physiology, and how it pertains to performance should directly influence training strategies of coaches. While in-depth study of sport physiology may not be necessary, a basic understanding of key processes, such as the AMPK & mTOR pathways illustrated in Figure 3 is essential. Coaches can now better understand why some forms of aerobic and anaerobic training may be incompatible, and often times detrimental to performance.

Figure 3: AMPK & mTOR pathways

Figure 3 represents an example of how two training modalities can contradict each other and result in sub- optimal adaptation from training. Understanding principles such as this can help coaches avoid such incidences through proper periodization, altering the focus of training at key times throughout the macrocycle.

Sports Nutrition
The science underpinning sports nutrition is one of the more widely recognized areas of sport science, and yet the potential of this area is generally not realized in the applied field. Like other forms of sport science, nutrition strategies should form part of the periodization plan to accentuate the goals of the current and future training phase.

Figure 4. A periodized training plan for an elite level athlete including nutritional focus
Reference: Theory and Methodology of Training, Author Tudor Bompa and Randy Wilber USOC.

The yearly plan shown in Figure 4, shows how all elements of coaching and sport science are represented, including skill acquisition, technical and tactical emphasis, sport psychology, and testing. Using a comprehensive periodization planning format helps to minimize contradictory methods (such as the example given in the previous section), and maximize positive adaptations to training.

Sport Psychology
The use of sport psychology should be planned and thought-out carefully. The sport psychologist should be a part of the training process only if the coach wishes to have the involvement of a sport psychologist. A one-time meeting with an athlete and sport psychologist because either athlete or coach determines the athlete has a “problem” with training or competition is a very poor way to introduce a sports psychologist to the training process. In fact often times such one-time measures are detrimental to performance and may exacerbate the issue. Sport psychologists can help the athlete in a multitude of ways and have several tools at their disposal, among them goal-setting, mental imagery, controlling self-talk energy management, concentration practices, and pressure control. The issue of confidentiality can be difficult to deal with for the coach, as the sport psychologist can only divulge to the coach information which the athletes give permission to reveal. Difficulties can arise when information which can affect the team, coach, and the outcome of competition is not being passed on because of confidentiality.

Video Analysis
Video analysis is a key tool in determining excellence in technical execution. There are some aspects of technique that will not be observed by the human eye and the use of video technology to analyse technical aspect of a sport are extremely useful. Video analysis can be useful in both technical and tactical situations.

Sports Medicine
Effective communication with the sports medicine staff is essential to provide the elite athlete with the support needed to avoid injury, or rehab effectively. To facilitate the use of this resource, coaches should have an understanding of medical issues such as the female athlete triad, concussions, and basic treatment protocols. Like with the sport scientist, sport medicine staff need to have their roles and responsibilities defined and a plan for sharing knowledge should be put together.

Strength and Conditioning
The three primary roles of strength and conditioning are:
1. To give the athlete the ability to practice technical and tactical skills more effectively.
2. To help the athlete be less susceptible to injury.
3. Allow the athlete to cope better with the physical demands of the sport.

Part III coming soon.


  1. Nice article.Well,are there any certified training courses for becoming a strength and conditioning coach?

  2. I would say the 4th role of strength and conditioning is to increase athletic skill.

  3. Lawrence, thanks for your comment. Yes there are, but I would argue the sports coach does not need to become certified - but they do need to have some knowledge of the science behind training. The Coaches College we hold at ETSU every December (see, and the UKSCA Level 1 courses are examples of how they might do this.

    Dean, I am not exactly sure what you mean by athletic skill, but sport skill will improve from good strength and conditioning by helping the athletes "ability to practice technical and tactical skills more effectively", but I feel it is beyond our remit to specifically address skill directly. If you consider athletic skill to include posture, movement technique, strength, etc. then I agree completely.