In my travels and observations the consensus opinion among experienced coaches is that the current younger generation of coaches have some significant gaps in their preparation and skill set. The most significant gap is in the area of pedagogy, the ability to teach and organize. We have several generations of coaches who are well versed in science but very weak in teaching skills and organization. They never were taught to teach. This is the art of coaching and the art is what ultimately makes the difference. Science and technology are nice but that only represents one part of a much bigger picture.
Statements like the following which appeared in a recent New York Times article about heart rate monitoring really concern me, because even though it may have been said in jest, it does represent what I have been seeing; “I joke with people.” —– said, “that someday I’m just going to be able to sit in my office and drink a two-liter bottle of soda and eat a bag of chips and be able to look at my computer and shout through a microphone like the Wizard of Oz and tell them what they ought to be doing.”
No doubt science can give us insights as to why and even sometimes how, but it is the coach relating to and with the athlete that makes the difference. Numbers from HRV, lactate or force measurement are just that numbers but without a coach to work with the sport scientist to translate those numbers into action those are just random numbers. It takes a good coach with basic scientific knowledge but more importantly emotional intelligence to turn those numbers into action to make the athlete better.
Look, listen, turn off the iPad, and sometimes even put down the stopwatch and just coach. Look closely at the athlete; and understand that each athlete has a unique movement signature that represents how they solve various movement problems. Every athlete is a case study of one. Don’t be restrained by science, expand your coaching with imagination and creativity, be an artist. Coaching is a skill you can learn, and just like any skill you get better with practice. Get out from behind the computer and get out on pool deck, on the court or on the field that is where it is happening.
Great coaches are great teachers. Great teachers are great communicators. Great communicators listen more than they talk. They observe and show. They understand it is not about them; it is about the learner, in this case the athlete.
Know the science, but don’t be limited buy the science. Know how to ask the key question of the scientist. Work with them so they are an effective resource for you. Frank Dick, former Chief Athletic Coach of Great Britain is fond of quoting Winston Churchill on the role of the scientist: “scientists should be on tap, not on top.” At the end of the day it is you the coach and the athlete that are accountable and responsible. Keep a balance between the art and science of coaching. From the athlete’s perspective Chris McCormack, Ironman champion, summed it up best: We’re athletes. We’re not integers in a formula.” Coach the athlete.