What is the Functional Path


The other day someone asked me what the functional path was? Good question and certainly a legitimate question. The functional path is a metaphorical journey in pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and understanding of the fundamental truths of training an athlete for optimum performance. The journey began in the early 1960’s, actually well before I even started coaching, as soon as I started training as an athlete around the age of 16. I started looking for the best way to train, I did not have much guidance aside from some coaching in the actual sport techniques and tactics, but there just was no help on speed development, strength training, flexibility etc; So to improve athleticism I had to go on my own. I was determined to find out everything I could to improve myself. The more I learned the more determined I became.

When I started coaching in 1969 I had moved onto the functional path. Honestly, then it seemed pretty clear to me I had all the answers I thought I needed. It was going to be direct and straightforward, wide and fast like a superhighway. I had done more reading and research, some of my classes in college helped and I had been experimenting on myself for a few years and I had improved my speed, strength and flexibility. What I had really done was make a bunch of mistakes (I did not know they were mistakes at the time) but I worked very hard and improved. Unfortunately instead of learning from these mistakes I kept repeating them for my first several years of coaching. The athletes improved, but certainly not at a rate and magnitude commensurate with the work. This was the first exit off the functional path. I had no road map, my compass was oriented to magnetic north and I ended up on a dead end street. I needed to get back on the main road. When I did I got in the slow lane, bought a current road map and reoriented the compass to true north. I also got some good guides (mentors) and listened to them. So with more research, more observation of great coaches and great athletes and I got back on the main path again.

It seems that this has been an ongoing process, a continuing journey to learn and improve my coaching. As I gathered experiences, made more mistakes and learned from them, the path opened up and destination became clearer. There were many road blocks and detours and there have been times when I have had to blaze a new path, because no one had been there before. At other times I found that many had explored and blazed the path before me and all I needed to do was learn what they had done and apply it.

As I more forward in the later stages of my career I heed the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” There are new worlds to explore and ideas to learn, that is what makes traveling on the functional path so challenging and motivating. I hope to have the continued opportunity to share my travels on the functional path and blaze some trails.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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Vern Gambetta

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