Coaches and education, an ongoing concern …. of mine.

After working with many world-class athletes  from all over the world, and travelling quite a bit , I decided took take it easy in my old days, planning to take up gardening, solving Sudoku’s, playing bridge or finally starting to paint like Bob Ross, I am sorry to say it that none of  this all did happen. As matter of fact I am more busy than ever before, sometimes even too busy to write a post for my blog. But I found an hour to write. And I thought of my experiences in the past week, lecturing for many coaches about a variety of subject and listening to their input, their thoughts, their questions and their remarks.
Since I have been lecturing for the same kind of groups since 1982, I think about what has changed since then.
1.    Coaches are still hungry for new information, which is good, the education of a coach is never complete, it is a lifelong, continuing process, since sports is always developing and changing.
2.    Coaches have become more opportunistic: they wait much longer to apply for participation in a congress or course. Why? Because there are so many more options to fill your time, so one waits until nothing else more interesting shows up. which frustrates a lot of organizers.
3.    Coaches seem to be (I have to be careful, since I am generalizing here) less dedicated, homework is seldom completed, obligatory reading is seldom done. They seem to be more impatient, like most of us, and have no patience anymore to sit down and read. Who still reads a 300 page book? There is always other stuff that has a higher priority.
4.    One of the excuses of not showing up is: I have to coach tonight…… of course,….but  so have we all, but if there is a choice between a once a year, opportunity to learn something unique that makes you a better coach or another workout, of which you have 300 a year?? Afraid that the athletes can’t do without you today? Afraid that you can be missed for once?
5.    Some attitudes are still the same:
“I  know everything already”. You can’t judge that unless you have been there. And that is great, because it means that other share the same ideas, which makes you stronger.
“It way to complex for me, I don’t understand it”. Good too, it means there is work to do, the challenge of improving yourself is not only for your athletes, but also for you.
“These lecturers all seem to be hallucinating, they are completely off ” Well, I guess they were invited for their knowledge and experience in their field. Maybe they are up to something that  you haven’t heard yet or didn’t think about yet (although this is hard to admit).  It is seldom that going to a congress or attending a course or workshop does not one way or another inspire you. If this is not true you made the wrong choice: you either chose the wrong congress, course or workshop, or even: you chose the wrong job.
6.    I have been writing about this before: where does the information go? Information and knowledge seem to disappear or dissipate at an incredible rate. There seems to be hardly any transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next (vertically)or to colleagues (horizontally). Not only for coaches but also for exercise physiologists!

Meeting a young sports physiologist recently, he proudly told me about a research project they were going to set up, with a jump mat, to register the contact-time and jumping height, jumping from different heights. I was surprised because all of this field has been researched and published before, mainly by Komi and Bosco in the 1980’s in Jyvaskyla, Finland.
Surprisingly he had never heard of this research in his own field, nor had even never had heard of the name Bosco! So in a few months I would been sitting there, listening to sport scientists presenting  their “latest” findings in explosive strength, although we have been knowing this for more than 25 years. It’s  like somebody proudly presents you the invention of the wheel or gunpowder again.

I do not blame the sympathetic young sport scientist for this, but I blame the professors who educated him, although he could have been looking up what has already been done and published in that field.

But it’s the main source of limitations, for sure for the new generation of sport scientists and coaches.
Most of them hardly open a book, and use PubMed as a main point of reference, If it isn’t in PubMed, either it doesn’t exist or it is irrelevant! But Pubmed is only a well disguised marketing tool for the main biomedical science publishers to market their way overpriced journals. Also: if it isn’t on the Internet, it doesn’t exist, since everybody always puts everything on the Internet, isn’t it?

My other problem with sport sciences is that they ignore work that has been published more than 5 or leave alone10 years ago. If publications are considered to age that fast we run the risk of running into the same problems like I described above! Don’t get me wrong, I love to read and study sport sciences and sport scientists have become my best friends throughout the years. I just think that sport sciences, especially when trying to be of value for competitive or elite sports could do a much better job but taking the demands and needs of coaches more into consideration. My advice: read the classics in your field even of 100 years ago…….. you might be in for a surprise…….

Spectrum or depth?

As I have written here before in this blog: we can divide coaches into at least two different groups

1.    the generalist coach : Jack-of-all-trades, all-rounder, craftsman, the artisan, has knowledge about  a wide spectrum of performance-related subjects, but only superficial

2.    the specialist coach: the expert, the “scientist”, has deep knowledge, but only about a limited or  about one specific  area.

Most coaches are somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. For myself I am strictly in the middle, trying to know everything in every field, so becoming an expert in every field related to performance. If it works?  I can’t tell, but feel free to ask my athletes or my students.

Once you are a generalist, it is quite easy to go more into depth in any of the fields, dependent on the need of the moment, and the time and the resources you have available, since you already have the basics.
Once you are a specialist, it is very difficult to step into a new or different field of expertise..

A biomechanics expert will have trouble to understand nutrition and the physical therapist will have trouble to deal with psychological issues. This is since they are missing even the basic understanding of these other fields or they forgot about their first year in school.

And here is an interesting observation, see if you recognize it. Working with extremely intelligent people (IQ> 160 having at least one or more Ph.D’s, their intellect becomes a limitation because they are so smart they think it is easy to jump into another field of expertise, because they are so smart. I have seen brilliant scientists fail to set up the most simple businesses.  Because there is more than knowing how to conduct business, the deep core of business is to understand or better, the needs of your customers and than being able to fulfil that, or at least create that perception.
Also brilliant scientists have been trying to coach athletes, and again, doomed to fail.

For myself, I know my limitations: science is too boring, I make a lousy politician, diplomacy is not my strong point, singing and dancing is not my cup of tea either, my driving skills are suboptimal so to speak, my writing skills you can enjoy at least once a week, and I type with two fingers only, so yes, otherwise I could have filled a post with all my limitations.
And that is one of the many advantages of getting older:  you get to know your limitations and learn how to deal with them.

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