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The Quiet Coach

Good coaching is not about yelling and inspiring as much as it is about teaching. Take John Wooden as an example. Photo by AP.

Good coaching is more about teaching than it is about fiery speeches. Take John Wooden as an example. Photo by AP.

Tennis was one of the first sports I played and it remains one of my favorites to watch on television. A unique aspect of tennis is that while coaches are involved intimately in training, often on a one-on-one basis, they have no role at the match. With the exception of some recent rule changes in women’s tennis, it is frowned upon to even look at the coach’s box during a match and communication is forbidden. Watching the ebbs and flows of a five-set grand slam final as athletes must cope alone with the momentum changes and building pressure produces some of the best drama in sports. The tennis coaches may not get much recognition but they are some of the best coaches in the world since they prepare their athletes to do this battle alone.

Talking with coach Harry Marra last week has gotten me to think more about coaching theory. Many of the topics Marra talked about concerned how to improve communication between athlete and coach. Coaches must know their sport, and the great coaches are those that can best convey it to their athletes. The great coaches will have athletes that are not just physical specimens, but also students and active learners. During a competition they are not on their heels waiting for a sideline instruction from their coach; they are proactively deciding their next move because their coach equipped them to learn for themselves.
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Training Talk With Harry Marra (Part 2)

eaton_full

Last week I began a discussion with Harry Marra, the coach of world decathlon record holder Ashton Eaton. In part one, we discussed the art of coaching. Marra wrote a detailed essay on the topic last year and was able to share his thoughts on how to improve the core of the coaching relationship: the communication between athlete and coach. In part two, we discuss the difficulties of training for a complex event like the decathlon. Incorporating technical advice in ten events, as well as finding a place for important concepts like specificity of training and transference can be quite difficult. Through the utmost focus and the careful selection of planning of exercises (especially the versatile use of medicine balls), Marra has been able to find that balance in the training of Eaton and his fiance Brianne Theisen.

If you want to hear more on these topics, I am partnering with the United School of Sports to bring coach Marra to Zurich for an evening of talking about coaching and training. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 28th.


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Training Talk With Harry Marra (Part 1)

Harry Marra MugDespite serving as the US national decathlon team coach for a decade and coaching six men over 8,000 points, Harry Marra was a relatively unknown outside of the insulated world of multi-events when he was hired by the University of Oregon before the 2010 season. He was hired with one purpose: to guide a talented 21-year-old decathlete named Ashton Eaton. Ashton had already qualified for the national team at the 2009 World Championships, but he needed continued development in several events in order to compete with the world’s best.

In three seasons working with Marra, Eaton set the NCAA record, won the Bowerman award, improved the world indoor heptathlon record three times, broke the world decathlon record, and claimed Olympic gold in London. And his fiance, Canadian Brianne Theisen, has also improved tremendously under Marra placing eleventh in the Olympics and moving up to second all-time in Canada. After being named the USATF national coach of the year in 2012, few people will overlook coach Marra again. Eaton and Thiesen have only competed in individual events so far in 2013, but they have done well. Eaton has posted new bests in the shot put, javelin, 200 meters, and 400 meters. Thiesen in shot put and 200m. Both will compete in their first multi-event of the year at the famous Götzis Hypomeeting in Austria next month.

I am proud to be partnering with the United School of Sports to bring coach Marra to Zurich for an evening of talking about coaching and training. The event will take place on Tuesday, May 28th. Coach Marra also took the time to sit down and begin talking about these topics. In part one below we begin by talking about the art of coaching and finding the right way to communicate with an athlete, something I have talked about both last year and this year. Part two, which will be posted later in the week, will dive into a little of the complexities of training for technique and specificity in a sport with ten different events.


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