Deceived Deception


It appears that a precise system of afferent feedback mediates the overall perceived exertion response during high-intensity running, and psychological intervention that alters pre-exercise expectations has minimal feedforward effect on exertion ratings taken postexercise.

-Dr.Hampson et al

Someone the other day asked me what the biggest problem we face today in coaching and they were shocked to hear my response. I said technology. Being a reader of the blog they were confused why I felt so strongly against technology when it’s a personal love of mine and something I seem to support. I explained that technology is an extension of people, not a replacement. Currently we are seeing too many bad examples of technology use or misuse with sport, frankly because our coaching roots are being replaced by coaching science instead of enhancing coaching in general. The Human element is brought up a lot in various blogs but seems to be too much of a rant or sermon versus a healthy discussion of what it is. Yesterday I coached a triple jumper with no moving parts, meaning nothing besides a few cones and the workout script. Most of the conversation was about sensations and feelings, specifically the soreness and joints from a hard workout previously. We anticipated some slight soreness to come after a hard practice and did a light circuit a day after. Yesterday we purposely overreached and the last rep of each exercise a slight hint of fatigue was there. The athlete felt it, I sensed it, and we both knew we hit the sweet spot.

The problem, an underlying one, is the lack of honesty in training. We expect too much from magical workouts, or don’t give enough credit to grinding out hard effort from day one to the last day. The effort could be training or it could be preparing the equipment. When I read the Technologist Blog I was interested to see the big fuss about the Gold Standard in rugby. Some were thinking it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, some said it was hype, and the most common response was what is the big deal. When RPE was talked about the first comment was about what scale to use,0-5, 0-10, or 0-20. I was concerned that the most important part of the equation was not the algorithms or formulas with the training load. It was what is the expectations of the team and the relationship of the athletes. Was a culture of just get it over with there or do you see bear hugs at the beginning of the season? Honesty is about trust and relationships, and communication is only as good as the relationship. I have seen it work and fail because if the system is not explained in the beginning, rebellion can occur. Expertise, real or perceived is also a component. Some coaches have great credentials and compliance is a given, some have to earn it, especially the new and younger coaches.

So how do we build this trust? Strangely technology does his with recording history, and this can range from pen and paper to advanced mobile solutions with GPS and other technologies. Pen and paper is my love and while the technology is amazing, I am seeing it dilute coaching abilities and the perception of reality. One NBA D-League coach commented that RPE was not objective and he was right, but saying athletes lie about the scores shows that he and his organization have bigger problems. If someone lies, that is an issue that must be overcome first, not seen as a glitch to the monitoring system. RPE is only as good as the program, otherwise athletes will just say or type 7 because thinking or reflecting on 6 or 8 being more appropriate is too much when they are not engaged.

A classic study by Noakes purposely deceived the athlete to fool them on workout efforts and actual output and the athlete, while tainted by placebo, was able to not be totally fooled and was rather close to the actual reality with RPE. What was more interesting was the RPE was not just one score, but different components of the running such as the difference between the chest and legs, and of course the head.The body is an amazing machine and we need to start with RPE and soreness, objective data and help see how the human beings are perceiving the loading, be it a linear encoder or GPS device. Unfortunately it’s easy to make everything in the process passive, by strapping on smartfabric and that is why an art exists to our profession. Still, artistic freedom has limits, and results are the indicators.

Without technology no evidence of who is actually performing the art well will be available. Some miracle workers (self claimed) can just say trust me or I have 30 years of experience while another can claim the same. Without technology each guru coach has dartfish eyes, can hear heartbeats, can feel fascial energies, and smell the coconut milk from two days ago. Some coaches are extremely talented and have gifts, but I think we need to ensure that what we believe to be is not wishful thinking or hero worshiping. I have followed advice from some mentors and it backfired. Some have salvaged careers. It’s all under review, and to progress we must validate training theory with something logical and evidence based. At the end of the day it is a human process and about honesty, something we need to do better about.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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