Train Like the Pros
While this subject seems pretty obvious, once I started thinking about it, it makes sense that the "Top Ten" are really impacted by the beliefs and structures that the person doing the hiring uses. For example, does the position require specialist skills e.g. Speed coach, strength coach, rehab coach etc.
So that you can understand my perspective when I hire S&C staff, which subsequently influences my "Top Ten", here is a basic synopsis of how I run my physical performance environments.
I have used specialist coaches in the past during intensive training blocks with great success. These jobs have been when cohesive training blocks with the athletes are intermittent in nature due to demands of competition (international rugby e.g. Wallabies) These types of jobs are relatively rare in my experience. In these roles the specialist coaches I use are assigned to particular athletes within the group, while managing the broader demands of the squad falls to myself. On that basis I have used staff with specialised skills sets and because they are engaged to do only 1-2 specific tasks I have not been concerned with their broader knowledge or capabilities.
The majority of jobs on the market however are permanent roles where staff are required to be present throughout all phases of the year and depending on the sport may be required to work with young or inexperienced athletes. In these type of roles I target staff who are truly STRENGTH & CONDITIONING coaches. They must be capable of working with and educating players of all levels of experience through all aspects of physical preparation. Some coaches may have particular specialties or strengths but ultimately they must be capable in all areas. I want my coaches to have an integrated understanding of the environment...how does that run effect the next strength session, how does a change in strength load impact injury risk during running etc etc etc.
NB: I have never held a role within an sporting institution e.g. AIS, so my views are quite biased toward professional team structures.
My Top Ten hints for getting an S&C role in Professional Sport
1. Walk the Walk - you don't need to lift as much as the athletes, you don't need to run as fast as them (let's face it if we could we'd be athletes not coaches), but you do need to have an empathetic insight into what you are asking the athletes to do. What does that set "feel" like? What happens when these two lifts are compounded? What does that supplement do? What does it taste like? I've seen coaches try to coach from a text book and I'm not a big fan. I've known some very successful coaches who are about as athletic as my grand mother, but they are definitely in the minority. From a learning perspective, the vast majority of athletes are kinaesthetic and visual learners. Put simply they learn by seeing and doing. Coaches who have trained themselves enough to be competent lifters, runners etc can demonstrate technique more effectively than those that have never experienced it themselves. In my experience this leads to a more efficient learning phase for the athlete and makes for a better S&C coach.
2. Live the life - I get the equal opportunities thing, but I can't fathom hiring people who are clearly unfit, to work on my staff. Similar to point 1, you must have an empathy with what the athlete is doing as you are "ground zero" for education. What you portray is often the first thing the athlete will learn, particularly young athletes. You can't be smashing soft drink and meat pies when they are trying to be disciplined eating grilled chicken and veggies. Again as for point 1, you don't need to be "ripped" like an athlete, but you need to portray an appropriate degree of commitment to "practising what you preach".
3. Know Strengthening of Movement - strength training is an accepted training medium for everybody from marathon runners to basketballers. Obviously depending on your sport the degree of time and knowledge committed to strength training will be determined by the nature of the sport. Certainly in Australia the vast majority of Professional S&C jobs are within team based field/court sports or Olympic disciplines. From that perspective, in all of these sports strength training knowledge and experience (see point 1.) is paramount. Further a thorough appreciation of the relationship between strength and locomotor movement in all planes of motion is of significant importance. A practical knowledge of historical philosophies, new thinking and academic research must all be combined with an intimate understanding of movement to contribute effectively to a high performance environment.
4. Know Conditioning of Movement - my professional experience has been working exclusively in team based field sports so I apologise again for the bias toward that area. Understanding the biomechanical basis for the movements required in your sport is fundamental. What posture is required? At what speed is the movement exhibited? What limits or allows an athlete to express that speed of movement? Understanding how to coach fundamental movement in all planes of motion is a core skill (for those who missed it... you must know how to coach running and COD). Further a clear grasp of the impact acceleration, deceleration and various velocities of work have on the body is core knowledge for an S&C coach. Knowledge of things like isolated muscle testing, ROM assessments, functional systemic strength tests and their associated philosophies allows the S&C coach a capacity to identify or work with other professionals who have identified "road blocks" in a players movement specific physical preparation.
5. Understand Rehabilitation - understand the impact common injuries and medical interventions have on an athlete's ability to move. This extends to understanding the skill sets and methodologies used by doctors, physiotherapists and massage staff. In my opinion rehabilitation is one of the most critical roles within a professional team. As S&C coaches we are charged with ultimately having the athlete ready to return to competition, and it is in your best interests to understand clearly what doctors and physiotherapists are doing to the athlete so that you can make an informed judgement regarding the selection of training stimulus for the injured athlete. Quite often this knowledge set increases rapidly the longer you have been in an environment, however as the market place continues to get more competitive this is an area of skill development that I see many young S&C coaches seriously lacking.
6. Understand Nutrition - most professional teams (mine included) have Sports Dieticians intricately involved with the club. On my staff the Sports Dietician directs players food and fluid intake. Principles for these directives are all cleared through me and it is my responsibility to ensure that my Sports Dietician has the required philosophical approach. Therefore, for my S&C staff, as nutrition is of such huge importance to physical preparation it is paramount that they are capable of having an informed discussion with the Sports Dietician it terms of describing the training demands and individual goals of the player. Personally I don't go in for the current trend of S&C coaches claiming to be "nutrition specialists". There are a few guys about appropriately qualified in both fields, but they are few and far between.
7. Understand Anatomy, Biomechanics and Physiology - as it applies to points 3-6. I don't need guys in lab-coats running around but equally I don't need guys whose only understanding of physical preparation is "bashing the daylights" out of athletes at every opportunity. Don't get me wrong…the need to drive athletes is critical, but understanding what and why you are using a particular training modality and how it fits the overall development of the athlete is critical. Similarly the characteristics of a given training modality and how they relate to a particular athlete are crucial to ongoing success of a program. On a daily basis discussions will vary across many subjects and with different professionals involving terms such as lever arm lengths, moments of inertia, peak flow etc…you don't want to be standing there with a dumb look on your face when these subjects come up.
8. Communication - clear and concise! When integrated with the knowledge base identified above and the personal qualities noted below communication should allow for a creative environment where all participants can contribute to and learn from the process being undertaken.
9. Personal Qualities: Honesty, Integrity, Loyalty, Humility. Honesty - no bullshit…ever! Integrity - do the right thing because its right…not because someone is looking. Loyalty - stick by the people who have stuck by you. Humility - have a clear perspective on who you are and respect your place within the community you find yourself in.
10. Attitude and Commitment - Bryce Courtney said it best…"first with the head, then with the heart!". Points 1-9 is what you need to use your head for. Dealing with the grind day in and day out (believe me it is a grind once you're in it…not all bells and whistles like some think) in a manner that inspires others to follow you and a resolve to see both good and bad situations through shows heart…and trust me, you'll need it to survive in this game.
This has become far bigger than I first intended to write. Please understand that this is "MY" list of what I see as important for an S&C coach. Clearly other professionals with similar experience to mine may have a different opinions.
Take these points for what they are..."hints". Use them as you see fit and discard the ones that you think don't fit you.
Good luck to all the budding S&C coaches out there!
If you get something out of this throw me a "Like" on Facebook...thanks.
I've been around long enough in professional strength & conditioning to have seen numerous different approaches to preparing athletes for competitive sport.
Do you train lower body bilaterally or unilaterally?
Do you train running capacity long to short or short to long?
Without question there is more than one way to "skin a cat" and there are many different types of "cats" (athletes) in the world. I always encourage professionals in the S&C field to develop and regularly refine their own training model. Despite any differences in theoretical or philosophical approach to your training model, there is one thing that binds us all...data.
Data is the one true leveler. Objective data is the single most critical tool in an S&C coach's "bag of tricks". Data allows us to answer four critical questions with respect to the athlete:
Where are they coming from?
Where are they now?
What barriers block the path forward?
How do we plan to get to their destination?
If you can clearly answer these questions, you can then apply those answers to your training model and develop a systematic plan for the progression of your athlete…and make no mistake, collecting data about training is just as important for the guy at the local gym or in his garage as it is for an athlete. Quantification of training allows us to develop plans to improve.
Over the years I've seen everything from coaches who train for tests so their data looks fantastic for the team's head coach, all the way to coaches that effectively don't test so they keep everybody in the dark. While neither of these approaches contributes to long term development of the athlete, somewhere in the middle is the answer.
At the TEDX conference in Sydney 2013, Simon Jackman (political scientist) presented on what he called the Democracy Data Revolution (www.youtube.com/watch?v=INf5u29n-5Q). In his presentation he made a comment that I felt was tailor made for the S&C industry…"In God we trust...everyone else must bring data". I think this statement sums up the nature of S&C coaching. Data gives a clarity to ensure that we can define without question "why" we chose a particular path at any given time for our athletes.
Personally, from a testing perspective I adhere to a philosophy espoused by coach Kelvin Giles…"Training is testing - testing is training". There is nothing I hate more than having to put training on hold to conduct testing. Further, investing in a single testing opportunity that is then compromised by absences or poor performances based on any number of psychological issues ends up leaving "black holes" in your data that doesn't in any way help your end game.
My preference is to measure as many variables as possible as frequently as possible to give me clarity as to where my athletes are at at all times. This then transitions from not just assessing performance, but more specifically to assessing the adaptation of the athlete to the prescribed stimulus. From my perspective understanding an individual athlete's adaptive cycles and capacities is more critical to my programming than simply knowing their current performance cabability.
Now, measuring as many variables as possible as frequently as possible, is quite easy for me to say sitting behind a vast array of technology in a professional sporting environment. Wrong…the technology you have at hand is incidental. The philosophy is what is critical. I work on a system of Lead Indicators. By definition, Lead Indicators are measurable factors that change before the dependent variable (in our case performance) begins to change. A Lead Indicator is in practice data points collected on a regular basis with limited time between data collections that allow you to see "trends" developing. The assessment of a "trend" allows you to make critical tactical changes in programming where required in order to adjust to or sustain the trend as is required. This is opposed to a Lag Indicator which by definition identifies changes once the dependent variable has begun to follow a trend.
For example; assessing body composition by DEXA scan is a Lag Indicator while assessing skinfolds, body mass and intern Lean Muscle Mass (by calculation) is a Lead Indicator. Small changes in SF measurements over a number of weeks will alert you to a trend developing while the DEXA scan will confirm the observation.
In practice I have found that the most effective way to develop a Lead Indicator system is simply to identify the data that you most value with respect to the abilities or performance you are trying to bring up in your athletes, then ensure you measure it as regularly as possible to assess the development of trends. For technology enabled environments this is done with equipment like GPS, accelerometers, linear rate encoders and force plates. For environments that are limited by technology you simply need to think around the data collection issue to find what you can assess.
Here's a number of Palaeolithic (to steal the popular nutrition term) Lead Indicators and ways to measure them.
Power - mark heights on a Smith machine using tape so that jump or throw heights can be assessed visually. This logic also works in a squat cage - use a piece of elastic tubing (Theraband etc) from the front to back of the cage again to create a height gauge, simply adjust up and down to determine the maximum jump or throw height. While power can't directly be assessed, improved jump/throw height at a given load is indicative of improved power.
Running Capacity - develop a "test set" that can be used on a regular basis to assess progression. It can be as scientifically accurate as you like. The most important thing is that it is repeatable. Running sessions based on the work of Veronique Billat and Gregory Dupont (check future posts) are ideal for use with large groups as athletes can be very easily moved up or down groups based on their observed performance.
Remember the most important things about data;
Be consistent in how you measure
Measure on a regular basis
Measure what you value
Ensure what you measure helps your athlete improve
If you get something out of this throw me a "Like" on Facebook...thanks.
More than just a kettlebell master, Pavel (www.strongfirst.com) has distilled a pantheon of training theory into one very simple concept.
3-5 days per week
This is a incredibly simple self sustaining training tool. The one comment I would make for the "rookie" would be to ensure you don't over cook your neuro-muscular system by going "max" all the time.
My preference is at a minimum to go "session on session off" followed by a recovery day. For example...
Monday (System Power)
Hang Clean, Squat, Split Jerk
3@75%, 3@80%, 3@85%
Tuesday (System Capacity)
Snatch, RDL, Chins
5x5 @ 75%
Another very simple method of managing this system is to balance upper body vs. lower body.
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The 5/3/1 training program was written by power lifter Jim Wendler (www.jimwendler.com). The no BS summary is that it is a very effective training tool! I have found that with 2-3 cycles I have been able add 20kg to a 1RM bench press in a player rehabilitating from a lower leg injury who at the time was running approx 25km per week.
Not bad gains!
Never a truer word spoken.
To survive as a professional S&C coach in elite sport your heart must be in it.
While you can earn a decent living...it's definitely not about the money!
At the moment you think you are at your best…take another good hard look and find the next thing that needs work.
Whether you are an athlete…
Or a coach considering your athlete…
Never think you've got it nailed.
Nothing in human performance is static, everything evolves…despite your best efforts, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst.
Athletes that you think you've got into just the right condition will change subtly…
Personal issues, study, environmental conditions, positional changes, one over zealous practice session.
At the sharp end of the stick, professional sometimes it doesn't take much to tip the balance.
Just like a surfer scans the horizon for the first glimpse of of the next set, keep looking to the athlete's horizon searching for the next change.
You snap unnecessarily at family. You can't wait to get the kids to bed
Reasonable questions from your partner become incessant nagging.
Your efficiency drops. Your clarity of thought becomes clouded.
Creativity becomes an effort. Motivation for everything wanes
You stop moving. The path forward becomes unclear.
Your guts churn. You wake up in the middle of the night.
You can't turn off the noise in your head.
You look tired. You feel tired.
People start to comment on how tired you look.
Little things seem massive...And little things no longer seem to matter.
You fatigue quickly. You look forward to coffee
You crave comfort food. You crave alcohol.
When things are at their worst...
Step 1. Move...do anything to get your blood flowing and generate some heat...
Step 2. Quieten your mind...meditate, do breathing exercises, whatever it takes to reduce the noise in your head...
Step 3. Finish one thing...you've got a massive to do list...pick one thing a "NAIL IT" immediately...then leave the rest to tomorrow...
Step 4. Tell your family you love them!
Then realize things aren't that bad and you need to get on with it!
Remember what is important!
Remember the WHY!
No matter what situation you are in, it's your responsibility to manage it!
Even Superman with all his incredible powers was totally humbled by Kryptonite.
Everybody has their Kryptonite. Some say everybody has a cross to bear (overzealous God bothers). It doesn't matter which way you term it...everybody has a weakness.
Now what you do with that weakness can be a turning point in your athletic career, but even at a more organic level it can be critical turning point in your life.
How you and your body deal with stress associated with weaknesses is critical to both personal and professional survival.
If you are honest and can accurately determine your Kryptonite you can figure out how to best manage it.
Humility plays a massive role in acknowledging your "human nature"…which is inherently flawed.
Understand your weaknesses and develop them to the best of your ability…
Play to your strengths…
And take life on!