Do coaches learn too?

This week I had an interesting talk with a good friend of mine, Charles van Commenee, former Technical Director of UK Athletics. Since we are both giving lots of presentations and lectures for coaches, we asked ourselves: do coaches really learn from what we teach them. In other words: do they adapt their training programs, do they change or shift their point of view? Of course not only from our input, but also from the amount of information they collect in general.

Let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity, we lecture for 100 coaches and  we come up with a new idea or concept none of them has ever heard of. How many of them are going to apply this idea the week after or even at all? Do they adapt their training programs?  I am afraid, most of the time coaches are afraid to try out new ideas (no, we are in no way as innovative as we give ourselves credit for). Do they have the patience to see the long-term result for a different approach? Or do they  discard the new idea since after two weeks they don’t see any substantial progress yet or a leap in performance?

We also assume that as coaches get older, they are less likely to change their minds, concepts or philosophies, since their experience has ‘proved’ they are on the right track.  And this applies to coaches who have been very successful indeed, but also to coaches who never have been close to success or who have a track  record of athletes dropping out, overtraining, getting injured or fail to deliver at the right moment. We coaches are a stubborn lot, aren’t we?
So what forms most of our knowledge or reference base?

I think our own experience as athletes, is for a large part the foundation of our knowledge  base. Which in most cases means the positive or negative experiences with you own coach at that time.
A second influence is probably a charismatic mentor, coach, scientist whose ideas influenced your thinking in an early stage of your coaching career.
The third factor the first lessons your learned from the first courses, most of the time within a federation structure or university.
After that Charles and I are assuming there is very little that will substantially change your opinion formed by the influences described above. No  matter how many congresses you go to, how many books or websites you read. We all use that information only opportunistically to confirm our already formed ideas.
Starting lectures with the question:  “why do you coach”,  we often hear the answer:  “to bring out the best of our athletes”.
But my questions are:

  •  but do you also bring out the best of yourself or could you do better?
  • are your athletes better than you despite of  you?
  • are your athletes of international level but are you thinking and operating at regional or national level?
  • when did you stop learning or improving yourself, because you already know it all and reached the end  of the line?
  • how often do you spend time reading a book about your job, instead of skimming the surface of a subject on the Internet?
  • how about those 10.000 hours, did you make them already?

Some coaches will tell you they changed because they bought the latest testing equipment, like video systems, GPS, Omegawave, heart rate monitors, etc. My question then is: you already had an idea about how to train, did the testing really change that idea profoundly?  Or do you selectively use the data to confirm your ideas or do you blame the system or get confused if the test results are not parallel with your concepts.

I very often observe that in former days coaches made a workout plan A for today and a workout plan B for tomorrow.
Now they have a testing system, they  execute plan A and test their athletes before plan B. But strangely enough, the outcome of the test does not matter. If the athlete is in the green numbers  they execute plan B, but if the athlete is in the red numbers, they also execute plan B!! So the test doesn’t really matter and therefor becomes a useless toy.

But there is also something very positive:  in every group we lecture for, there are a few bright guys, minds wide open, adaptable, willing to learn, not only challenging us, but also challenging themselves. Sometimes  they are young, sometimes they are not that young.
These are the ones we lecture for, they are the coaches who learn, they make it worthwhile.

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