More Colleagues Responses to Beware The Keyboard Coaches

Dear all,

The amount of professionals around these days that have the wisdom, balls and credibility to email such a ‘rant’ are few and far between. Thanks Vern.

There always has and always will be short-cutters and frauds around. They have just found a global platform to speak now: social media. We should not let them worry us, but simply outperform them and offer something better.

Frank is right: “I am 100% convinced that we need a group to be brought together to found a properly regulated Profession or Craft of Coaching”

Bill is right: ”The good part is that these type of coaches are easy to beat.”

Run better conferences, build better websites, offer better coach development and coach better.

I’m in.

Regards, Dean Benton, Former Performance Director Brumbies, currently consultant to AIS

I wrote Vern individually, but in the spirit of furthering the discussion I thought I would reply to all here. I couldn’t agree more with the comments shared already.

We all see some of the great stuff that can come from online collaboration and sharing of information, but as Vern mentions there are downsides too. Here are a few pet peeves of mine along these lines:

  • Stating the obvious in an outrageous way so it will attract hits. Authors will often make bold statements to get readers but in the end they are saying something everyone takes as a given. Ask yourself after you read something: “Have I learned anything?” Most the time it is no.
  • Sharing opinions rather than experience. Opinions versus experience: too much writing about what people think rather than what is done.
  • Focusing on exercises. It is hard to describe a holistic training philosophy in 500 words. But it is easy to explain an exercise. Therefore many authors write about exercises rather than looking at how to put everything together. This shifts the focus on the wrong topics. This is similar to the you tube training porn topic Vern has written about before.
  • Me first. It seems people seem to want to create the next big idea. If you view it as an industry, you need to create the idea since that is where the money is. If you simply say someone else is doing something good, that doesn’t sell anything. But most good ideas have already been created. People should spend more time talking about those and less time trying to reinvent the wheel. Open your minds, give credit where it is due, and further the conversation rather than always try to start a new one.

Best regards, Martin Bingisser – Currently an active athlete, hammer thrower and youth coach in Switzerland

Hi Vern,

I spend a lot of time trying to convince the Universities to prepare their students for the workforce, especially those who intend to enter into coaching.

I guess I can somewhat forgive the Universities for their shift towards science and research as many of them receive grants that keep them going financially. But, with the Universities being the main provider of the next generation of coaches I wonder if they have missed the point.

We all view coaching from differing standpoints but there are some views that have stood the test of time:

The ability to communicate with the athlete in a way that grows their accuracy of decision-making and their ultimate independence.
The ability to sift through all the competing demands and choose the right priorities at the right time.
To know what to say, when to say it and when to remain silent.
A coach must provide guidance that is based on scientific fact and at the same time never forget the human element of the dialogue. The ‘scientific fact’ component is dependent upon continued research in the field but I am concerned with this branch of education. The chase for published research has meant a plethora of research nonsense out there. Trying to sift through the enormous amount of poor research; biased research and ‘commercial’ research is a pain to all those who want to remain at the cutting edge of decision-making.

I would suggest that higher education institutions refresh their stance on the training of future coaches and teachers. Stop feeding the marketplace with researchers and pseudo-scientists and send an army of practitioners with the real coaching skills – and an open mind if you don’t mind. Let this next generation know that the training program they have in their mind must be written in pencil – it is the athlete’s adaptation rate and depth that determines where they go next and not how pretty the document looks.

Give them the tools to ‘mend a broken movement’. Give them the tools to act sensibly when something doesn’t work or an athlete struggles to grasp the training direction or load. Give them the tools to develop the person within the athlete as well as the reps and sets and drills. Give them the humility to question their assumptions. Give them the inter-personal skills so they can fit realistically into a multi-disciplined environment.

Just as the Universities are a great source of our coaching manpower so is the general community. The ‘Mum & Dad’ coaches are such a vital cog in the development process of the athlete that their on-going education and support is vital. The content of the early levels of coach education courses is the key for this layer of the coaching community. Far too much time is spent on the ‘scientific, technical and tactical’ elements in the rush to create winners at all ages. If this is all they learn then it follows that this is what they will teach / coach. Time to question assumptions on coach education content?

Great topic Vern.

Kelvin Giles. International Consultant in athletic development

I don’t have too much to add to the wise words that are getting shared here, other than to share an observation I have on this issue. The issues that we are seeing in a lot of these coaches are directly related to the issues we are seeing in today’s up and coming athletes. Its an analogy of sorts. Some examples on

Today’s coaches, as related to today’s athlete:

  • Overspecialized: either have only coached one sport, one event, one position, one age group, etc.
  • No athletic development/physical education background-a lot of sport coaches, esp in collegiate and professional setting, only criteria for being a coach is they played the sport. The days of PE majors or BS in pedagogy, etc, are dead in the US.
  • They seek instant gratification-The days of embracing the building of something, or the grind of the job, are vanishing. If athletes aren’t good enough, or they aren’t successful, it must be someone else’s fault, and its time to move on.
  • The Swag phenomenon: Not sure if this is purely a US young people saying, but it describes the attitude, newness, dress/gear, and hipness a lot of today’s athletes try to portrait. In coaching, I see this as the coach who has to have the ipad, the technology, the shiniest shoes, and build the biggest ego/persona to be successful.

There’s dozens more that apply to both coaches, and today’s athlete, and I think its very telling about the cultures that are being built and permeating some sporting teams and institutions. Thank you all for your wisdom and insight.

-Randy Ballaard ATC at University of Illinois

Wow. Some absolutely fantastic commentary on the state of coaching. Feel fortunate just to be included in this email chain of wisdom.

Echoing Randy’s sentiments, from the college world, I see the development of our coaches, and it seems like there is little incentive for learning how to coach. Too many young coaches trying to break into the profession focus on the wrong things because of the way the system is set up. For example, in college track most of the time I see athletes who ran fast or focused on connections take jobs while many true coaches are left struggling.

When kids see this, they focus on what gets them jobs. I have so many friends in the college coaching ranks who never really learned how to coach, learn, or teach. And they continue to do almost exactly what they did as student athletes.

On the learning side, you have two big problems. There’s no set up coaching education. No one teaches anymore. We have coaches with very wide ranges of majors, and the PE/coaching degrees are being supplanted by more exercise science type degrees.

The problem, and this is coming from someone who is heavy in the academia/science world, that those programs create people who never learn the critical skill of application of methods in the real world. You get kids who can recite a bunch of physiological parameters, but don’t understand the history of coaching in their sport, or how to translate the information from the science/research world into practical coaching application.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many fantastic coaches out there, but it’s been my experience that most of them develop and happen in spite of the educational pathway that they follow. Most, like myself, are just fortunate enough to find some great mentors along the way who teach you how to coach, and coach multiple things.

If we want change it will take some sort of organized effort.

-Steve Magness, Cross Country Coach University of Houston

Wow . . . LOVE this discussion as it brings to light a developing issue that is probably going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

I believe that main culprit is the lack of professionalization of our field. It is incredibly easy to call yourself a Coach, specifically a S&C Coach in this country. You don’t need a degree in the field. You don’t need experience. You can pay a minimal fee to have your name printed on a (seemingly random) piece of paper that states you are qualified, and, to the uneducated masses, it would appear you are. Can you imagine if being a dentist were so easy? A surgeon? Of course not. You can’t go to a veterinarian school in Venezuela and move to Chicago and call yourself a pediatrician. Ethically of course, but more importantly, LEGALLY! You don’t see people going online telling people how to extract a tooth by themselves, or how to perform an appendectomy (well, at least not the website I see). Why? It’s not legal to do so.

The organizations that SHOULD have issues with this, who call themselves the leaders in the field, are instead doing the exact opposite and see it as an opportunity for a money grab. These multiple entities- the NSCA, CSCCa, USAW, Crossfit, NASM, etc, are trying to make the proverbial pie larger and get a larger piece of it at the same time. When suggestions are made to raise the bar on education and experience for coaches, they jump on board, then lower the bar so more people can $ign up and get “certified”. It also doesn’t help that you now have ONLINE universities offering degrees in Exercise Science. So now, in a people-profession, you can get a college degree with no experience interacting with peers, athletes or clients. Amazing.

I am sure other disciplines went through similar evolutions…it wasn’t too long ago that you didn’t even need to take a 1st Aid class to stand on the sideline at a High School football game to tape ankles and diagnose concussions while calling yourself the team’s Trainer. Now, to become an ATC, you have to go through specific academic programs and have specific work experience, clinical rotations and the such, to even take the exam! Similar for Physical Therapists. Not saying this is the endpoint, but it sure as heck raised the bar to the point where it separated the people who want to make it a CAREER from those who want to simply add it to their resume (more letters after your name!) to get another job.

I can’t blame young coaches for doing what is necessary to get a job as soon as possible. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand it. Heck, I have bills to pay just like everybody else. However, there has to be a movement to elevate the standards of the profession, both to improve the quality of the coaches involved and to separate the people who want to make it their career from the people who just want to make a quick buck.

-Mike Bahn, Strength & Conditioning Coordinator
US Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA)

Wow! What a great thread.

Vern – hello again after too long a time. Frank – you are still alive! That’s good to see 🙂

Bill Sweetenham kindly forwarded Vern’s original email and many of the responses to me and what a rich source of enlightenment and inspiration they are. I am currently in the final throes of a Master’s dissertation in which I examine the “disconnect between theory, practice and performance” in swim coach education, but it appears from everyone’s responses that the problem is systemic across all sports, not just swimming. As Steve said, “those [academic] programs create people who never learn the critical skill of application of methods in the real world,” and “[who] develop … in spite of the education pathway.”

A few observations: Frank said, “Coach development is a journey which starts with what you can be taught …” but swimming is not even doing the teaching! Bill said “Both England and Australia are examples of this diseased approach,” where the correct skills and content are omitted from early athlete development. Vern’s original lighting of the blue touch paper said the ‘keyboard coaches’ (great phrase) can “recite the Krebs cycle forward and backward”; I’ve never been able to understand why I needed to learn about Mr. K’s amazing cycle to coach swimming but the present crop of developing coaches wouldn’t even know it existed.

In both England and Canada the swimming certification content at level 1 and level 2 (of 3) ignores all technical aspects of swimming! The certification is actually so mind-bogglingly divorced from the real requirements of coach education that it is difficult to convey the depth of the chasm between what is and what should be.

The overwhelmingly majority focus is on aspects of social sciences, rather than on the athletes needs of precise tuition related to the ‘hard’ sciences – hydrodynamics, biomechanics, biology, physiology, and mechanics. Quite literally, these are completely absent in the English system and sparsely covered in the Canadian one. Compounding the English issue is the coaches are practically assessed on some of these areas (which have not been taught) and I am told the assessors are paid a bonus for awarding passes!!! Something is rotten ……

The hard science is left to the ‘supporting’ sports science community but, in many cases (not all, before someone tries to cut off my head!), they are a causative force in the demise of coaching good-practice.

Many ‘sports’ scientists simply turn up at the pool, record heart rates and times, draw some blood, print out a list of results together with a [usually badly designed, badly presented, badly constructed, badly annotated] graph, take their fee and drive away. There is very little analysis, and evaluation, never mind correlation with training plans and actual training history, and no diagnosis or prescription. The reason? They have information but they know nothing! They have their PhD’s in Ex. Physiology (the curriculum), but they don’t understand exercise physiology (the subject). I have a few thousand words loitering on my hard drive titled “How scientists should talk to coaches” – note to self: complete it!

Steve points out that “PE/coaching degrees are being supplanted by more exercise science type degrees,” and Randy agrees; “The days of PE majors or BS in pedagogy … are dead”. Way back in 2001 I did a review of the English swim coach education model when Bill was British Swimming’s NPD. When GBR swim coaching became professionalized in the mid 1970’s the historical route had always been through the PE teaching colleges. Over the next 25 years that route was gradually eroded and every coach I interviewed said it was a disastrous change of direction.

The combination of a lack of formal sport-wide and pedagogical training coupled with a complete lack of technical content in swim-specific education has resulted in a generation of ‘coaches’ who, to paraphrase Tim Jones of British swimming, are “primarily driven by the stop-watch”.

‘Doc’ Counsilman summed up the problem: “. . . uninformed coaching is worse than no coaching at all.” (Counsilman & Counsilman, 1994:4).

Will said the relationships are being “compromised by computers and the social media,” which is exactly true but I don’t blame computers or social media. They are amongst us; they are not going away. If we have seen the enemy it is not computers or internet fueled ‘conversation’; the enemy is our attitude towards them. We have to find a way to harness the amazing power, versatility and reach of computing and virtually instant, virtual communication.

Part of my dissertation is a description of a model which seeks to ‘harness’ the value of these things (like a multi-headed combination of Khan Academy/Facebook/Candy Crush Saga, Twitter and Skype); to use them to teach more and to teach better, and to encourage/coerce/force involvement and communication between Head Coaches and staff, between club staff coaches and other club staff coaches, and between Head Coaches and Head Coaches.

Kelvin says the “general community” and “Mum & Dad coaches [are] a vital cog in the development process” and emphasizes “their on-going education … is vital.” He identifies the key for this layer as the early levels of coach education. Rich, simple, informative and accurate content is exactly what is currently missing at this level, certainly for swimming.

Martin wrote about a shift in focus on the wrong topics and mentioned Vern’s “YouTube training porn” topics – we have to produce YouTube, or similar, content that is not porn but is high-quality cinematic art.

The current coach education and development scenes are a problem, but they are problems which can be solved.

-Clive Rushton, Swim Coach

Thanks everyone for the great insights and perspectives. It certainly seems to be a hot button of all of us.

Coaching education seems to have been reduced to short term certification type seminars, many of them on-line. They do not appear to be directed toward practical application on the field.

My experience with these coaching education programs and observing other coaches is that they are very sport specific, with little general athletic development teaching. Everyone comes away with charts, computer software programs and drills, drills and more drills. This method is producing trainers, not coaches.

It would seems that internships with mentor coaches is a possible way to approach coaching as a profession. This brings me to another subject for a new rant thread:
Stagnant coaches. Many of the established coaches I see are locked into one system, one method. I think a necessary step is to encourage continuing education and growth for the old coach as well as the new.

So having suggested mentor or master coaches to assist in education and professional development, I fear that these are few and far between. Anyone with a computer and internet access can be an expert source and an author, a distributor of wisdom.

I think there is a need to start over and rebuild from the bottom up.

Thanks for your patience with my rant.
-John Larralde, Assistant Track Coach Westmont College

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