Thursday, 28 May 2015

a coaches' guide to strength development: PART III - how's your culture?

Thanks for sticking with us.

When organizing the outline for this series, I asked myself what would make the biggest difference for a coach TODAY?  But more than that - what information do coaches need to aid in any decisions they need to make TODAY?

First - I thought it important that coaches understand the background - why do we lift in the first place?  Without knowing this, it is super-difficult to make any educated decisions. 

Secondly, we need insight into the organization of loading parameters. By categorizing an almost limitless number of variables, we can better organize the objectives for our training sessions. 

The logical next step was to write a section on how to structure the organization of loading - i.e. planing and periodization.  But does knowing how to structure a training program help a coach TODAY?  

I would argue that it does not.

The physical organization of your sessions are extremely important - no doubt. 

But I feel what can make a bigger difference TODAY for most coaches is knowing how to best provide an optimal training environment - one which maximizes the athletes’ ability to learn, to grow, and to improve. 

I don’t do this as well - or as often - as I should, but a structured introduction to each training session - whether on the track or in the weight room - is highly important.  Conversely, debriefing each session - both with individuals, and within the group - helps to revisit the main teaching points, and reminds athletes of what their take-homes are.  We too often take for granted that the athletes understand the objectives of each day.  It is a missed opportunity every time we assume this. 

There is no one I know who does a better job of this than Strength Coach Brett Bartholomew.  I have really enjoyed getting to know Brett over the last couple of years.  He brings the qualities  of a young coach - the passion, the enthusiasm, the thirst for knowledge  - but he also has many  of the traits of more experienced coaches - understanding, empathy, and context, for example.

And since he does such a good job of this, I asked him to share his thoughts in this section of the series.  Matt and I will continue next week with a discussion on periodization, practical application, and exercise selection, so please come back then!

Creating the Culture
by Brett Bartholomew

Within our minds, thoughts are processed and exchanged far more rapidly than any muscle could ever hope to fire. The words we hear, sensations we feel, and emotions that we experience influence these thoughts during every moment of the day. In the realm of performance, where the head goes, the body follows - as it is perception that precedes targeted action. Understand that it is the world within us that influences the world around us - this is how cultures are created. The work that takes place within the training environment of the weight-room is a manifestation of this notion. Every session and every set determine an outcome, and the environment that we create is critical to influencing the potency of every action.

Intent is every bit as important as one’s movement quality. When under load, it is not enough to move well. One must move boldly and with a 'violent grace' if we want to maximize kinetic linking and utilize our body as the conduit for explosive force for which it is meant for. Focused intent allows us to maximize our level of engagement to a task, and through this, it multiplies meaning. Helping an athlete understand how driving out of the bottom of the squat with technique & tenacity, or firing the barbell through the air during an Olympic weightlifting movement as if we are hurling the discus, exploding out of the blocks or taking a hurdle, primes the mental connections that we need in order to help them bridge the gap between the 'track and the rack' - through bringing higher level meaning and focus to the work they are doing. 

From a coach's standpoint- teaching athletes to train with purposeful intent helps to maximize the nervous system’s full potential and enhances its ability to produce, maintain, and replicate coordinative, rhythmic and dynamic muscle action - all of which are critical to sport & higher level motor expression.

Of course none of the above can truly take place if we as coaches are not able to 'talk in color' to the athletes - to paint a picture in their minds as to how these two worlds connect. Beginning the session utilizing a 'start with why' approach can help them better understand your vision and help forge a deeper, more personal understanding as to how the training program that they are about to take part in is going to enhance their performance. By giving them the why, and by providing objectives and expectations in regards to the session, they begin to see the picture with renewed focus & envision their actions as a key determinant to the overall end-goal.

Similarly, it is key to re-cap the session at its end. By doing so, you are 'closing the loop' through helping the athletes to continue to identify with and understand what just took place. This simple action continues to foster a deeper understanding, which is critical to the learning process, and continues to drive enhanced intent through making it personal. This re-cap (or 'breakdown') does not need to be verbose and is actually less effective if the coach makes it so. Remember - athletes need to feel informed - not spoken to. Answer questions, recap what was accomplished, and set up the next piece for the following day’s session.

The process described above is what I like to call the 'onset to encore' approach of coaching. From beginning to end, the focus is on making the power of  intent, understanding and action clear - and etching it into the athletes' psyche, so they see the world as we do, and vice versa. This approach is a key element in the most fundamental aspect regarding the art of coaching: to simplify something down to its core & communicating to others in a way so that they care about and feel empowered through their understanding

Always remember that athletes are people first - they have many of the same thoughts, concerns and worries as the rest of us. When we coaches can understand the athletes' unique internal environment, we can better construct everything around it that is needed to bring the best out of them day in and day out, and THAT is how championship cultures are created!

Brett is currently a ‘Performance Specialist’ (man I hate that title!) at EXOS (formerly Athletes Performance) in Phoenix, AZ. He directs the NFL program for all EXOS facilities and works with a wide range of athletes - from baseball, to Special Forces & Boxing/MMA.  He is an accomplished writer and speaker, and if you get the chance to hear him speak, I highly encourage you to not pass it up.  There is no doubt in my mind that Brett will be a major influence on us all in the coming years. 

Brett is on Twitter.  Give him a wee follow!


  1. Glad you put the people part in, Brett says some good things. Simon Sinek explained the "why" in his ted talk. Frank Dick said many years ago in his "Sports Training Principles"
    "We don't coach javelin throwers or sprinters, we coach people who throw the javelin or sprint".
    Easily forgotten if your head is focussed on the excel and power plate data and not on the person doing the jumping!

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