In the last few weeks I have been reflecting a lot about the evolution of the coaching profession. When I started my career in Sport, I was more interested in coaching than sports science, later on I drifted to science, mainly because I am the kind of person mostly interested in evidence and numbers, in structures and processes and find difficult to get lost in philosophies and opinions which unfortunately still permeate part of the coaching community.
In my view, coaching is teaching. It is about making people better, and it is about “igniting” passion for something. Coaching is about facilitating the expression of talents as well as instilling a culture of hard and honest work and passion for the activity the athlete is doing.
So, when I was coaching, I aspired to be a great teacher, a great motivator, a man with a plan able to communicate clearly to my athletes what we were doing and why and I tried to measure and understand most of what I was doing in order to separate the good from the bad. In my view at the time, a great coach was also an excellent communicator, and was somebody able to facilitate creativity within a structure of play (I was a Handball coach after all).
As a Strength and Conditioning coach I was clear about my role: I had to make my athletes stronger and faster and robust enough to endure training and competition. Over the years my career has taken different directions, from pure science to scientific support to managing holistic approaches to performance. In such roles I have met many coaches and practitioners with my daily interactions, but I also came across many individuals in coaching conferences, workshops and seminars and also on the Internet. I have to say that over the years I learnt to “box” coaches according to the way they work and would like to share this on my blog. This is not a critique to the people working in a coaching role, but is a tongue-in-cheek blog which I hope it can be used for self reflection to understand where the coaching career is going and also be used as a guide for young sports scientists.
1. The multi-medal winner who is always right
This is challenging coach to work with. He/She has won everything there was to win, has been successful over the years and is grounded on his/her beliefs of what works and what does not work. In general, the multi medal winner is obsessed with (old) routines and thinks that his/her way is the ONLY way to improve performance and win. The only way to win his/her trust is learn about his work, collect evidence. Build and collect evidence and he/she will listen to you. With no evidence your philosophy and your beliefs count nothing. After all, he/she has won everything, not you, so why should the coach listen to you?
2. The motivator
The motivator gets incredible attention from staff and athletes. He/She can get anybody to climb mount Everest. He/She is capable of inspiring the most incredible performances. However most of the times he/she is completely disorganised. Cannot put together a structured plan with a sense, improvises and has no idea why certain things work and what does not work. If you work with a motivator coach you will always be in a great environment but unstructured and random. So what you will need as a sports scientist is organization and structure. The motivator suffers from ego-boosts periods when things go well and excessive rehearsals of Al Pacino’s any given sunday speeches
when things go pear shaped, so be ready for loads of pep talks and inspirational videos.
3. The Lecturer
This coach is going to lecture everybody, his/her athletes and hi/her staff. However, just like any university lecturer, few times athletes and staff will fall asleep…The lecturer coach is always prepared (to give a lecture) but most of the times what he lectures about is not what he/she coaches. He is too busy to put together cool quotes to self reflect and find out that what he thinks he/she is doing is not what is happening. Sports science support to a lecturer coach is challenging as it means many times falling into the trap of producing power point slides to get to your points. If you end up working with somebody like that, get ready for death by power point and numerous hours of meetings in which you will be lectured.
4. The pseudo-science guru
This one is fascinating. This is the guru. The one that also has sometimes cargo-cult science
following. He/she is always right just like the first type, is a great motivator and a lecturer. Is the combination of all of the above. What makes this type more dangerous than others is that this coach reads stuff. Blogs, books, articles in Russian, philosophy theories, books nobody has read or can buy, and has a side interest in physics. This type comes up with new terms previously unknown to mankind and claims facts that were published in some obscure journals (or on the walls of a cave) which helped him/her develop the new theory of coaching. This one is lethal, because will challenge any sports scientists using collections of sciency words in random order and will confuse you so badly that at times you will think that what you learnt in your degrees was just a pile of nonsense. He/she has a following after all, and everyone wants to work with him/her. So if you question or refuse to accept the mumbo jumbo you will be quickly dismissed as an innominato, a non believer. Best way to work with this type? Get your facts right, über right! Make sure you translate the mumbo jumbo in something meaningful and take your time to understand how he/she works. Sometimes great gifts are given in ugly packages, so you might learn something new if you listen but this happens rarely. Many times you will shake your head in disbelief and will have to challenge the non sense using scientific facts. Be prepared, as the pseudo-science guru does not like to be contradicted, so unless you are really really good and absolutely correct, you might lose your job before you know it.
5. The Artist
The artist creates. He/She is never prepared. There is no structure, no plan, no thinking forward, no idea of what happened last week. Nothing, nada de nada. The Artist coach will surprise you with curve balls coming from everywhere. His/Her plans (which reside only in his/her head) will be always changed at the last minute. Whatever you agreed to do will have to change. So if you work with this type, better learn how to sail and read the wind, as the working journey with this type will take you to places you have never been before…This type should come with a warning if you have OCD and/or love structured plans.
… TO BE CONTINUED …