Sunday, 10 November 2013

random ramblings...


It’s been a while...apologies


Let’s get right to it:

10 fairly random ramblings on things I have been thinking about the last couple of months for some reason or another...some are about sprinting; some coaching; some related to athletes; some related to coaches...like I said - random...



1. Two heads are better than one?

A few weeks ago, I sat down to plan the training for the season.  And for the first time in my life, there was someone sitting next to me. 

I’d be lying if I said I was 100% comfortable with a co-coaching role this year with Andreas Behm.  Even though we had shared many conversations about training (seemingly conducive philosophies), had spend plenty of time on the side of the track watching warm-ups together at competitions (seemingly similar thoughts on mechanics), and personally got along very well, I was unsure whether we could design a program together.  It was a fact that I was actually doubtful of.  

I have co-coached with some super-smart folk - including close colleague Matt Jordan - but it never seemed to work as well as it should.  Problem was I could see no other solution to a problem being better than mine.  My ego didn’t allow it.  

Now I’m older.  Hopefully a little wiser.  And 2 months into the process, I’m real excited with both what Andreas and I have produced thus far, as well as what promises to come.


Leave your ego at the door, and great things can happen when we work together.



2. Tissue quality trumps all...

I’ve worked on a lot of athletes in my career.  
Only twice, have I been blown away by the quality of someone’s tissue.  

1996 Olympic 100m gold medalist Donovan Bailey trained hard - of that there is no doubt.  The 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist in the 100m (and former world record holder) put in the work.  He was a beast.  Seemingly built to run fast, with impossibly long legs, and a tiny torso.  He was one of the first elite athletes to judiciously integrate therapy with training.  In fact, often his therapy hours would surpass his training hours!  He slept in excess of 70 hours a week.  His diet was pretty optimal.  And his coaching was world-class.

Heather Moyse is the 2010 Olympic gold medalist in women’s bobsleigh (along with pilot Kaillie Humphries).  She’s not super-strong.  Is not blessed with world-class speed.  And her pushing mechanics just OK.  Her diet is average at best.  She is 33 years old, and has spent the better part of the last 15 years punishing her body while becoming a world-class rugby player (she represented Canada at both the 2006 and the 2010 World Cup) and bobsledder.  She spends much of her time recovering from her latest niggle.  But she is still one of the best in the world, and a possible (likely) medalist in Sochi in February.

Both athletes obviously highly successful.  Both with very different preparation methods.  Both with tissue you could spread onto toast. 

maybe it’s all about the tissue?

gold medal tissue


3. The sea gets deeper the further you go into it

Too often we get bogged down in analysis.  We are too keen to learn - in the assumption that the act of plugging more information into our brains will automatically make us smarter.  But our brains don’t work that way.  Analysis on top of analysis just pixelates the picture.  

To bring clarity, we need to occasionally step back: sharpening our vision. We need to synthesize all this new information, comparing it with that which we already believe - creating new connections, and perhaps new insights...

Last year, I read over a 100 books.  This year, I hope to read less than 20.  Last year was about synthesis.  This year - analysis.  I didn’t plan it this way...it just kind of happened.


A coaching career is simply undulating periods of analysis and synthesis.


4. ‘Kinetic Signatures’

Look at the 8 finalists of any Major Championship, and you will likely see 8 athletes make their way down the track in 8 differing manners.  The 100m race is the ultimate in mechanical individualization.  Every athlete in the top 50 in the world has a different technique - many vastly so.  Russian super-biomechanist Nikolai Bernstein likened skill acquisition to solving a motor puzzle; each one requiring a totally individual solution.

It is imperative we don’t impose our own solutions to these puzzles; have a destination in mind - but allow the athlete to find his own way there.  Our job is just to keep them on the map, and maybe to act as a compass.

Couple weeks back, I was talking acceleration cues with Nick Winkelman and Andreas Behm.  It seems that most coaches tend to cue one of two ways: 1) pushing (ground-based cues); and 2) driving (air-based cues).  Having a technical model is important, but not every athlete will benefit from the same cues

In my experience, most sprinters fall into one of these two categories, and it is important we understand where they fit, so we can cue appropriately...

Some sprinters are built to push - cue these guys to push.  
Some are built to bounce - cue these guys to bounce.  

The guys that want to be on the ground - your cues need to reflect this.  Cue pushing.  Those that tend to get off quicker - cue these guys to drive the thighs.  

Giving an ‘air-cue’ to a guy who grinds the ground won’t work.  Giving a ‘ground-cue’ to those that can’t feel it?  Going to be a frustrating time for both of you.


square pegs and round holes, and all that...

this dude's a ground pusher...

5. Be a formal empiricist

No - it is not necessary to fully understand the scientific justification behind doing what you are doing.  Indeed - it is justification enough that it has worked previously; the inexperienced coach can borrow programming from a mentor, for example - or from other coaches that have applied their programs over the course of many years, and have showed that theirs is a successful system.   

However, what is not acceptable is to justify your program because it worked for you.  And only you.  Or it worked for a previous athlete.  And only that athlete.  This is lazy coaching; a type we see far too often - especially from athletes-turned-coaches, who often lack the coaching education necessary to develop one’s own methodologies.

Knowing what works is vastly important.  Understanding why it works is arguably more important.  One is about experience.  The other is about judgement.  

Experience brings clarity to judgement. 
...and judgement guides future experience.


6. Don’t go to coaching courses
(...except mine)

Courses are no way to learn how to coach.  Instead - find a good mentor.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  And get stuck in - get your hands dirty.  Find some athletes that will let you coach them. If you can’t find any - coach yourself.  Your neighbors.  Your friends.  Eventually, you will begin to learn how the pieces fit together.  

Coaching courses are akin to watching sports highlights shows.  Without watching the whole game, it’s impossible to get a feel for the rhythm...

Go to the course - catch the highlights  - take the notes.
Then go home, run it through your own personal philoso-meter, and if it sticks, learn as much as you can about it.  Seek out the course instructor.  Email him.  Ask him questions.  Bug him endlessly.  Go and spend some time with him.  Apprentice with him.  Offer to clean his car.  Whatever it takes....


Just don’t leave the course, and be done with it.  The course was just the introduction.

greatest coaching course in history...

7. Get lost in the mundane

Too often as coaches we feel pressured to entertain our athletes.  

Coaching isn’t entertainment.  

Instead, it’s drilling in the fundamental basics of the sport over and over and over again.  Repetition of the basics is the key to expertise.  It is always the athletes who have complete mastery over the fundamentals of the sport that rise to the very top.  The sport seems easy for them - moving with a flow and a fluidity unattainable to other mere mortals...

Athletes need to understand this.  Drill it into them every. single. day.  
And coaches need to have the strength and patience not only to understand it, but to stick to it.  Stick to it even when it becomes monotonous.  Change for change sake is rarely a good strategy.


Make friends with the boring.  



8. Tell me the truth.  There ARE no truths

No matter how solidly-based or ‘self-evident’ a conclusion may seem to be, it is always possible that something could reshape it.  Don’t get bogged down by dogma and tradition.  Today, you may not conceive of anything that could modify your views, but with an open mind, this is inevitable.  

I don’t care how old, or experienced, you are: if you look back at what you did 5 years ago, and don’t shake your head...you just wasted 5 years.


Absolute certainty is an illusory quest.


9. Commit dedicated time to study

If you want to be a better coach, you need to study.  As important as ‘just coaching’ is, without deeper understanding, it is tough to know which way to turn when we get in trouble.  

Be ruthless with your time.  Identify low-value habits...and eliminate them.  

Saying you will simply find more time to study is not good enough.  
‘Finding’ time doesn’t happen.  
No one ever ‘finds’ time for anything.  
You cannot ‘make’ time, or ‘find’ time - you must ‘replace’ time.  


When time is limited, be more judicious in your application of it.


10. The goal of good coaching is to substitute visible complexity with invisible simplicity.

Jean Baptiste Perrin was a French physicist, most famous for confirming what Einstein had already wrote.  I paraphrased (stole) the above from him.



maybe I’ll get famous for confirming what Perrin wrote


……..


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3 comments:

  1. Nice. Very good thoughts. So many good ones - but I will stick with one - you must 'replace' time. Very true. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. thanks Carson! Your recent posts have inspired me to replace my own time...

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  2. A great read. Thanks Stu and about time you wrote a new post!
    I think what stuck with me is certainly the "athlete-turned-coach" realm I'm working on entering... "Knowing what works is vastly important. Understanding why it works is arguably more important. One is about experience. The other is about judgement."
    A good reminder to keep making sure I can explain the WHY's not the what's and the how's... WHY are we doing what we are doing? What will the end gain be? It's like making sure you have a curious 2-5 year old constantly on your shoulder asking WHY to everything.

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