Saturday, 8 June 2013

just a dumb coach...

Christian Malcolm is smarter than me.  

As hard as it is for me to admit that, it is true.  

Dwain Chambers is also smarter than me.  So is Marlon Devonish.  And Kaillie Humphries.  And Katie Uhlaender.  Akeem Haynes.  Steve Mesler.  Glenn Smith.  And a few hundred other folk who have had the (dis?)pleasure of my coaching company over the last 21 years.  

I think for the most part I fooled them all...but it’s all just smoke and mirrors, really.  I’m a sham.  A pretender.  I’ve just pretended to know what’s best for them.  All the time afraid that they would find out the truth.  

I may come across like I know better.  

...that I have a plan.  

A periodized plan even... 

But...I don’t

All I really have is a guess.

Based on what they tell me...what I see...what I know...what I think...

But the one piece of information that I am lacking...The only piece that really matters...I do not have:

“How does the athlete feel”?

I can ask.  I can monitor.  I can devise elaborate questionnaires.  I can even use the latest and greatest....HRV, TMG, etc...

But all it will give me is a picture of how the athlete might feel.  

“the athlete can feel, but cannot see.  The coach can see, but cannot feel”
...and that pretty much sums it up.  

If a coach cannot feel what the athlete feels, then how can we accurately predict how he is going to adapt?  How can we pretend we know more than the athlete?

My argument is - we can’t!
...or at least I can’t...

So until that magical, mystical day when I can transpose myself into the athletes’ soul, and feel what they can feel....I will just...


...actually, to make myself feel a little smarter, I call it a ‘hypothesis’.  

You remember the grade-school definition of a hypothesis?  

“an educated guess”

not just pulled out of thin air: it is based on...
research, the athlete's experience, my experience, whatever monitoring we have done, etc. 

all this comes together to inform the narrative which drives my hypothesis. guess of how the athlete will adapt to the ‘stress’ that I place upon them...

and then

Based on this hypothesis, I run an experiment - i.e. the training program.  

At the end of the experiment (a training block), I use the new information we have gained through these new experiences, and form a new hypothesis, and begin the process over again.  

By the way, this process necessitates a completely individualized program.  I simply cannot understand coaches who apply one-size-fits-all programming.  Every athlete is different.  Every athlete has a different stress-adaptation response. Every athlete requires an individual program.  


I have been guilty in the past of coming up with these super-elaborate, beautiful-looking plans that I have spent months on - sitting in my basement like some mad scientist.  Then, when the time comes to run the program, I feel like I’m so emotionally tied to the plan, that I have trouble deviating.  

We see this all the time.  

Emotional commitment to something we have spent a lot of time, money, or energy on is a huge problem - not only for coaches, but in every industry, and in every part of our lives.  

There’s even a name for it:

Sunk Cost Fallacy

(essentially, the irrational commitment to a poor ‘investment’.  The more you’re invested, the more difficult it is to abandon it.  Read Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow and Ariely’s Predictably Irrational for great insight into loss aversion and sunken costs).

"Sunk costs drive wars, push up prices in auctions and keep failed political policies alive. The fallacy makes you finish the meal when you are already full. It fills your home with things you no longer want or use. Every garage sale is a funeral for someone’s sunk costs".
- David McRaney

It’s a difficult thing to admit to.  It’s basically admitting to our fallibility.  It’s one thing to admit to a mistake that you have already made...’s another thing altogether to admit to a mistake that you have yet to make!  
- doubly difficult for the oversized ego...

But somehow, that’s what I have managed...
...a few years ago, I began to write my programs a little differently.  Instead of detailed planning - often months in advance - I prescribed broad ranges.  Varied exercise options.  Loading alternatives.  

Some Structure

But there is still some organization to this process...
I approach it thusly (again, credit to Mladen Jovanovic for the inspiration for the ‘zoom levels’)

  • Philosophy - this is mine.  It is not influenced by the individual athlete I may be coaching.  It is based on my experiences.  My knowledge.  This is where I am smarter than the athlete.  It may meander over time and circumstance, but on the whole, it is pretty fixed.  

  • Plan - again, this is mainly influenced by me, and is based primarily upon my experiences.  The plan is essentially the components of the program.   On the hole, for 90% of the people 90% of the time, this is determined by me.

  • Periodization - the manner in which we organize the plan (components): this will be semi-influenced by the athlete - especially in cases where they may have school, work commitments, etc.  If I have experience with an athlete and we have had good success within that experience with a differently-organized structure, then we may ‘periodize’ things differently.  Athletes have different loading capabilities, so we may have to organize schemes differently to fit their specific abilities, etc.  

  • Program - what the athlete does on any given day.  And this is where the athlete becomes smarter than me. 

Much smarter. 

And this is difficult to admit to.  The pendulum that swings between the coach and the athlete finally swings all the way across.  It’s time for the coach to step out of the way, and allow the athlete to express whatever it is they are capable of on that particular day.  

I really can’t stress that point enough:
get out of the way!

It is not a free-for-all, however... 

But if it exists within the philosophy, the plan, and the periodization, then the athlete runs the show.   Auto-regulation to the maximum.  While keeping within the main structure, we best take advantage of the day to day fluctuations that we cannot predict by remaining super-fluid on daily programming (what Mel Siff called 'cyber-kinetic periodization'). 

I tend not to normally write about the details of what we do in training - not because I am secretive about it, but because I feel it is important that every coach find their own way.  There’s far too much blind copying in this business.  As I have written before, if you know the why, you can figure out the what.  Without the why, though, you’re just lost.  

But, I thought I’d share at least a picture of how I write the programming portion of the plan...tune in next time for the details...


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