Athletic Development Manifesto

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I’m not writing this to tell you how to train your athletes but I am asking you question what you do, why you do it, how you do it and when you do it. Think and question, seek answers. On whose authority do I speak? Frankly I speak on the authority of wisdom based on experience and common sense. I have a passionate belief in defining the field of athletic development and of the importance of coaching and the role of the coach in the whole process. I am a coach. As a coach I have tried many methods, explored many disciplines and fully explored the science of training. I choose not to be constrained by conventional wisdom; rather I choose to use conventional wisdom as a starting point. I specialize in being a generalist. Being a generalist allows me to focus on the big picture, the connections and relationships that define athleticism. The arena of athletic competition on the track, the fields, courts and pools of the world are laboratories to test these concepts. There is no hiding in this arena; it is a results driven world where flawed concepts, training mistakes and inadequate preparation are quickly exposed.

The basic concepts of athletic development are quite simple; you don’t have to make it complicated. That is why being a generalist is so important; it allows you to make relationships and connections that the specialist because of their narrower vision will not see. Over reliance on tools and technology will not get the job done. You need a coach with experience to ask the hard questions and interpret the data. Without that, high tech tools are no more than random number generators that confuse rather guide us.

Much of what I stand for is not new it has worked in the past in a myriad of environments but has been rejected by some as old fashioned, not high tech and scientific enough. Certainly in every field of endeavor everything old is new again, but because of our society’s rejection of the past we have not studied the coaches who paved the way for us. It is trite to say that we stand on the shoulder of giants but without coaches like Bill Bowerman, John Wooden, Doc Councilman, Geoff Dyson, Franz Stampfl, and Percy Cerruty where would we be today in terms athletic performance. They were innovators who were not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. I have been very fortunate to learn from many people. Most importantly I have learned from the athletes that I have coached. Who better to learn from? They were the ones who did the training; they were the ones, who competed, they lived it.

My concepts of training are based on study of past training methods, sports science research, proven practice, and practical experience working with all levels of athlete across a spectrum of sports from the speed/power end of the continuum on up to the marathon. Like the athlete the coach also learns through deliberate practice, through repetition and trial and error. You learn in the trenches, not from textbooks or in a laboratory. You learn form your mistakes and your successes.

Modern society and conventional wisdom in training has dulled our instincts. The key is to unlock these instincts and allow the body to solve movement problems the way the body was designed to function. It is essentially what children do in free play when unrestrained by adult supervision and burdened by having to do the movements correctly. Today even at the highest levels of sport coaches are creating robots. Movement is not paint by numbers, it is an expressionist drawing, it is not a classical music aria, it is jazz riff.

We need to get away from reductionist thinking, stop breaking movement and exercise into its smallest parts in hopes of producing a moving flowing working whole, it won’t happen. It will only happen if there is a quantum approach, an approach that focuses on the big picture and connections. This is where sport science has failed us. In the rush to publish and the desire to show statistical significance we have become so reductionist in our thinking that we fail to see the forest for the trees. Focusing on Max VO2 or trying to isolate the internal oblique and transverse abdominis, while very neat and clean in the lab just do not transfer to the performance environment. We must understand scientific concepts but they cannot restrain us. Coaches and athletes lead innovation in training and technique, not scientists. Science needs to measure an isolated component in order to conduct “valid” scientific experiments. I understand that those are the rules of the game for the scientist, but outside the lab in the real world of performance the rules are different. On the field, track, bike, or in the pool we do not have the luxury to isolate variables. Does that mean we should reject science and rely solely on practice and experience, absolutely not. As coaches we need to travel in both worlds. As a coach, statistical significance does not mean anything to me; I am interested in coaching significance and how it applies to making a particular exercise or training method more effective. Great coaches know the art and science. They know what canvas to paint on, what brushes to select, the brush strokes to use and how to blend the colors to achieve the desired result. In performance the essence is linkage and connections with all the pieces working in harmony. Training should reflect this and focus on muscle synergies and connections.

I am alarmed at the biased one-sided training regimens that I see being imposed on athletes today. If you are doing too much of one thing then you are probably not doing much of something else, it is a zero sum relationship. The result is a highly adapted athlete who is fully adapted to that one component being trained. To thrive in the performance arena demands the polar opposite, a versatile highly adaptable athlete whose training is not biased, but reflects the demands of the sport and the needs of the individual athlete.

These are not uncharted waters we are not going where no one else has gone before, the path is clearand the destination is obvious. That begs the question then, why with all we know and the supposed progress we have made are results so inconsistent? Why are preventable injuries at levels never seen before in sport? We need to take a different approach. Look back at what worked in the past. Look at those people who are producing consistent reproducible results today. We need direction, definition and leadership, not marketing and hype. We need to recognize and acknowledge the problems and address them with practical concrete solutions. To achieve this we need to shift the focus back on people, not facilities, equipment and training methods. Coaching is a people profession, people working with people to raise performance levels. We must do everything possible to raise the standard of coaching.

I hope this stimulates you to get on board and help me to define the field of athletic development. We can change and we must change or we will go the way of the dinosaur. I implore you to take another look at what you are doing and go out and work to build highly adaptable athletes that can thrive in the competitive arena.
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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

@coachgambetta

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