Burning questions for the future of training

You might think that the best way to predict the future is to ask the experts what lies ahead. In general, that is actually a poor idea. As Philip Tetlock has researched in depth, experts have a surprisingly poor track record in predicting the future. But there is a subgroup of experts that predict very well. These are not people with the most years of experience of access to the best algorithms. They are the experts who can think broadly, gather evidence from a variety of sources, work in teams, and, importantly, are willing to admit error and change course. Tetlock calls this group foxes.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet many foxes at GAIN over the years. With 16 faculty members from around the world, GAIN 2020 promises to be another event to remember. As a leadup to GAIN, I thought I would ask a few faculty members what are the burning questions facing coaches now, and where do they see the future of coaching and training heading. Below are interesting points that emerged from the answer from five faculty members.

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You can’t have long-term athlete development without long-term athlete retention

Sport drop outs are reaching historic levels and something has to be done about this. James Marshall works on the front lines with youth athletes in southwest England. He identifies this point as the thing that will drive sport forward:

“The drive to compete creates huge dropouts. If national governing bodies are still financed by competition results, they will be working with an ever decreasing pool of players. At some point people will try and match what they do to what the children want and need, rather than treat them like income generators.”

James MarshallExcelsior Athletic Development Club

As I like to put it: you can’t have long-term athlete development without long-term athlete retention

Rethinking big data

Stephen Seiler, who’s interview on GAINcast was our most downloaded episode of the decade,

Is defining which questions the data can actually help us with:

“In the digital age we have moved from no or very little feedback to an overwhelming amount of data on every movement and athlete makes.  These are exciting times, but also confusing times, particularly for athletes.

We have to understand the difference between complicated process and complex processes.  Complicated can be solved with algorithms, spreadsheets and careful planning.  Complex cannot.  Complexity can be managed though. Coaches are tempted to think they are working with a complicated training process when they are really dealing with complexity.  These two require very different mindsets and relationships with data (feedback).”

Stephen SeilerUniversity of Agder

That is a first step. A second step is incorporating a different type of data, as Ola Eriksrud of the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences recommends. He was a guest back on GAINcast 88 and sees big data as overlooking valuable data from practitioners. That is where we are more likely to find answers:

“Data is important and provide valuable information. With new technologies and analysis tools we will be able to understand and learn. However, we have to value practice based evidence and not only evidence based practice. We know that winning is in the details that as of today cannot be proven by neither effect sizes nor significance testing. Complex modeling and big data holds promise, but embrace the experienced practitioner and learn from them.”

Ola EriksrudNorwegian School of Sports Sciences

Embracing reality

Coaches Nick Garcia and Jimmy Radcliffe focused their answers on the reality that is hitting home: staffing is changing and athletes are changing.

“One thing for sure about the future: there won’t be just one coach.  They have the running specialist, the lifting specialist, the physio specialist, and on and on. The days of a do-it-all coach are gone.”

Nick GarciaNotre Dame High School

“The big question facing coaches is how to deal with student-athletes that have had very little experience figuring things out for themselves and using a constraints-led approach to have them focus on, yearn for, and then take part in the execution of an improved performance plan. In other words, teach them how to fish rather than keep feeding them.”

Jimmy RadcliffeUniversity of Oregon

Both of these issues presents both opportunities and challenges. For example, a large staff can bring in different experts and backgrounds to increase collaboration. But it can also build up silos and create turf wars. I’ve seen it work both ways. One thing is for sure: the coaches that master these skills will be on top in the decade ahead.