Colleagues Responses to Beware The Keyboard Coaches

Hi All. I couldn’t agree more. We see short cutters in all sport and the arts today. I will answer in depth in a couple of hours. In swimming we observe coaches conducting practices for developing age groupers without the correct measure of SKILLED aerobic backgrounds of technique muscle memory and sustained motor pathway learning. In preference to preparing non sprint white fibered athletes like they are a senior high performance athletes with “entertainment” practices of the multi vitamin tablet approach where there is a little of everything but nothing of anything especially sustained skills and technique under competition pressure and fatigue. Every one wishes to be a sprinter and no sprinters or would be sprinters wish to be endurance athletes. We have compromised our talented middle distance and distance talent and some sprint talent to this concept.

More importantly our exercise physiologists and sport science people think and even suggest that this is normal and valued practice. We have just witnessed the Commonweath Games and it is easy to observe without contention that the performances and results at this event in the 200 up category continue to decline due to inaccurate coaching and delivery of the appropriate training mix over the long haul to the athlete. Both England and Australia are examples of this diseased approach. The lure of instant gratification and compromise is the current cancer of achievement across THE performance world. Coaches who are winners know and understand that their experience AND knowledge must grow proportionally and linearly at the level where they plan to achieve. I could go on forever but I choose NOT to work with the quick fix coaches and sport science people of the world. Too old and no tolerance and patience for this type of people. The good part is that these type of coaches are easy to beat.

Bill Sweetenham, Former Head Australian Swim Coach

Love the statement – “a little of everything but nothing of anything”. I saw a study this year by Dr. Angela Duckworth of “Grit” fame: Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee

It is a very interesting study. One statement I found very profound: “the most effective preparation activities for developing spelling skill were perceived by spellers as more effortful and less enjoyable than alternative preparation activities.”

Another: “Our investigation suggests that this young victor’s flawless march through the words…..

in the final competition was made possible by tremendous passion and perseverance for the long-term goal of becoming the best speller in the nation. Such grit facilitated 5 years of very effortful—and not particularly enjoyable—deliberate practice.”

Speaks quite directly to the belief that skill in anything can be accomplished without a great price and the detrimental effect that belief has on a solid, meaningful self-image.

Regards, Jim Richardson, Formerly Head Womends Swim Coach, University of Michigan

Hi Vern

When it comes to rants this the most reasonable I’ve read. You are right; coach development is a journey which starts with what you can be taught and matures into what you can only learn. We are taught the science that constitutes the tools of our trade; we learn the art that defines us as coaches.

The latter is about how we translate experience into effective practice. As Vernon Law said “Experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first and the lesson after.” The people you are referring to know little of the experience as Bill eloquently points out, so they never get to the lesson. How on earth, then, can they afford credible counsel? Worse still, how dangerous are they to the embryonic coaches by suggesting there is a coaching version of painting by numbers or some kind of a ready recipe.

Not unrelated to this discussion is the sad truth that our generation haas been singularly remiss in failing to set out roles and responsibilities of Performance Science and Medicine as supporters of the process which coaches should surely lead. Moreover we have allowed coach education to be Academia driven. As a consequence, we have the confusion we now have.

For sure, there is now an urgent need for clarification in this. I am 100% convinced that we need a group to be brought together to found a properly regulated Profession or Craft of Coaching. Such must led by coaches at the level of those in receipt of your e mail.

Certainly it cannot involve the assholes you have caused your “rant’!

Keep smiling

Frank Dick, Former Chief Coach of Athletics, England

A couple of other thoughts.

Finding “the answers” as a coach is a process that requires great study, yes, but also requires much experience at applying a functional training process. It is never a linear process as there are just too many variables to that process. Of course, it is those many variables that make it interesting and challenging for us all. What concerns me most is that we are losing the engagement with the athlete in that process. It is through engagement and collaboration where both coach and athlete can grow. Many of us have run into coaches who have “the answers” and great knowledge, yet do not have a sustained record of improving athletes. I long ago decided to measure coaching success by how much the athlete grows in the process, both athletically and otherwise. Simply put, are the athletes improving and growing? If not, is the actual process then addressed to see if it is functional for that athlete…or perhaps is there something in the coaching that is limiting athlete development?

Coaching is about knowing the science, yes, but it is more about knowing how to apply the science effectively to a given athlete at a given time. Trusting our common sense and intuition are part of that and are worthy of some future discussion (the hard scientists would no doubt have a field day with that). How often we have said, after the fact, ” I should have listened to gut and done it differently”. But then, coaches can get comfortable in what they do. Any change can be difficult, especially for those lacking in experience. Trusting the textbook gives them something to hang on to in times of trouble.

The science is the easy part. Just find the resources, read and learn! The art of coaching, on the other hand, does not come so easy as that requires experience and wisdom. And that takes time…something we are increasingly unwilling to accept due to our increasing tendency toward immediate gratification and quick answers. There are many a coach who could improve him/herself by putting the latest text down and getting out onto the track. What happens on the track is the only reality that matters. It is where the most learning can occur…for both athlete and coach.

This topic is fertile ground for discussion.

Will Freeman, Head Track & Field and Cross Country Coach, Grinnell College

More responses tomorrow . . .

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