Athlete Integrity vs. Athletic Integrity

I’ve been planning this blog for a while now, but the announcement by the Australian Rugby Union that Wallabies Coach Ewen McKenzie has stood down six members of the Wallabies touring squad and disciplined a further nine for midweek behavioral breaches has provided a timely example of what I had been thinking about.

Athlete Integrity vs. Athletic Integrity…at the highest levels of sport one cannot exist without the other.

As it seems I pontificate about integrity on a regular basis it is worthy of sharing my “working” definition of the word: The choice to do the right thing because it is right…irrespective of whether anybody is paying attention.

So how do simple S&C coaches fit into this?

Athletic Integrity is what we strive for everyday. We aim to build bodies that will literally do “the right thing…irrespective of whether any body is paying attention (concentrating on it)”. By definition this is subconscious level performance, structural and metabolic integrity that is correctly programmed and conditioned for the task at hand.

As professional (or developing) S&C coaches we spend hours toiling over the details of programs and data, sweating on the delivery of skills in order to achieve the best for the athlete. However, we can’t achieve our end game: Athletic Integrity in the absence of Athlete Integrity.

Athlete Integrity simply means that the athlete him/herself does “the right thing because it is right…not because someone is watching”.

Over the years I’ve seen this conundrum played out a thousand times. We strive for the best for the athlete, but for whatever reasons they just don’t seem to get it.

Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of fantastic stories of under rated players that professionals like us have played a massive part in getting to a standard that they probably had not right getting to. But the story is not really about them.

The story is about those fortunate individuals that have been gifted talent that exceeds their peers by a significant margin, and their inability to accept the accountability for their role in a professional environment.

Now for my part I’ve had my ACCOUNTABILITY thrust down my throat by numerous head coaches and CEO’s over the years, explaining too me how critical my role is and how seriously I must take it (as if I didn’t already put in enough perfectionist OCD effort!). However on too few occasions that accountability “stick” was rarely swung in the direction of those who truly needed it

I don’t care what anyone says; consuming alcohol and elite sport do not mix! Yeah sure you can play…but there is no way you can be at your best. I get it that culturally it is part of game preparation in southern France and it is a massive part of Australian sporting culture, but unfortunately we are not talking about sport in the 1980’s, we are talking about sport in 2013 where players are well remunerated and dare I say it should be accountable for that remuneration.

I’ve seen the “big name” rugby league players who “bond on the drink” and how they go for the next few days post…doesn’t work. Yes the good ones can all muscle through training but producing little more than survival quality results. The old “it’ll be alright on the night” line seems to get a run with those guys.

The idea of Athlete Integrity goes beyond alcohol. It comes down to basic physical preparation. Seeing players come into training camp or preseason in a state that befits a social athlete is abhorrent. The fun bit is that the hammer falls back to us to get them ready, because like it or not Australia supports four football codes that fight above their weight internationally and for most teams there are players that will end up getting picked and causing head aches from an injury perspective because they are simply the best players.

While I've coached against the All Blacks on more occasions than I can care to remember they are an awesome team.  It is no coincidence that that their team is founded on an outstanding culture.   Check out this article for an overview.

Without question players who lack Athlete Integrity tend to be in the minority, however it never ceases to amaze me how it is always the talented ones that the public perceives to be geniuses that we know are propped up by sticky tape because of their lack of dedication to their craft as a whole.

So for our part stick to the basics: movement over muscle, strength before speed, stability before mobility, think before you open your mouth!

Understand the accountability you are bound to by your athletes and drive them hard to understand the critical role their Athlete Integrity plays in helping you guide them on a path to Athletic Integrity.

Just one man's opinion.



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