I am hoping to share my philosophy over the coming weeks and months and it seems apt to give a little background first on my coaching experience and influences to date. The biography on the website pretty much sums up my actual coaching experience but what it won’t tell you are all the countless coaches that I have learnt from over the years. While I haven’t had the fortune of meeting all of them I have always taken something from their experiences and things they have had to say.
I think Vern Gambetta summed it up when he said nothing is new; I believe in standing on the shoulders of giants so I make no apologies if I seem I am constantly quoting others. Once I take all the bits I like from different people and put them together it has become MY PHILOSOPHY.
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
So to start this process, I thought it would be interesting to share the thoughts of Bill Sweetenham, who is a world renowned coach who I first heard speak in 2005. At the time he was the National Performance Director for British Swimming (he was in this role from November 2000 to September 2007).
In describing his experience level as a coach he discussed FOUR periods in a coach’s life:
1. FIRST 5-7 years coaching: one solution to every problem
2. SECOND 5-7 years coaching: for every one problem you have 7-8 solutions
3. THIRD 5-7 years coaching: you don’t have any problems, you see them coming
4. FOURTH 5-7 years coaching:you create problems to teach lessons. You make it hard for the athlete to get through, but you do help them get through.
Well, I took on my first coaching role in 1999 helping coach football to some local primary school aged children under the guidance of Butch Fazal. So I guess 13 years later I’m sitting at the end of my Second period of coaching development in my life!!!
Bill said a lot of things that have stuck with me but I want to speak more to those comments he made relevant to my coaching philosophy and relevant to working with children in this Post.
> ”An athlete will always WIN because of their STRENGTHS. But they will ALWAYS fall short of their goals because of their WEAKNESS.”
”The area of weakness is the area of greatest improvement; the area where you can make the biggest difference.” Basically Bill is saying prioritise your coaching to improve their weaknesses.
I personally would start my introduction to my OWN philosophy by saying I believe in an approach a bit more along the lines of the great Frank Dick (From 1979 to 1994 Frank was the British Athletics Federation’s Director of Coaching).
1 Prioritise strengths
People achieve because of what they are good at, not what they are bad at. So that is your development (and motivational) platform.
I agree with Frank that it is important to find out what the athlete you are working with is actually best at and train that to be a weapon. It is also wise (from personal experience) TO START OFF giving the athlete more opportunity to do the things they are good at or like doing to build some motivation and get them on board. Obviously as they begin to trust you more you can start to talk about spending some additional time working on things they need to get better at.
As a coach of young athletes (mainly 5-18 years) my job is to work with the technical coach to determine if those attributes that are creating success at the junior level NOW will stand up at the world class level LATER. It is also necessary (but even more difficult) to determine whether we think the physical attributes they have now might change as they mature. Are they winning now because they are more mature than their peers? What will happen when the others catch up physically?
For example John Hicks and Jim Edgar were asked in ‘Coach Magazine’ to describe qualities of great junior tennis players (8-16 years). They described two stereotypes in respect of fitness that come through in the Men’s game:
> The player with the SPEED and incredible will power and unshakable consistency- aka Leyton Hewitt
>The player with less natural speed and consistency but HUGE POWER on serve and forehand aka Andy Roddick.
It is easy when looking at the finished product to say how obvious it is that Hewitt and Roddick would end up playing the way they do. However, consider without the benefit of hindsight whether this was so obvious when they were 13! Perhaps not!
2 Prioritise weakness if it interferes with strengths
So again using the Tennis example, take for example a player who has a western grip that they naturally want to hold (for the non Tennis coaches out there this basically means you hit the ball quite high in relation to your body so you can’t afford to let the ball drop too low- you can’t afford to be slow around the court!). But if you believe they are not fast enough to use a short lever you can work on their speed to build up a weakness which would interfere with their strength. In this case their strength is the ability to hit a missile with a Big forehand!!!
In summary, this links back to my overall coaching mandate of building a complete athlete who has no limitations (physical or otherwise). Sure, there are professional athletes out there who we might consider have poor aspects of their game relative to their strengths but they don’t loose because of it- it’s good enough and it’s not a limitation.
So now you have established the importance of maximising strengths and bringing up weaknesses (so you don’t lose because of them or risk getting injured) Frank says next assess strengths and weaknesses by whatever assessment instruments you have at your disposal.
Then, there is a 7 step process that Frank uses to assess progress once the key areas have been identified:
On the basic platform of full range movement and balanced all round basic strength:
I put this in bold because this part of the process of Athletic Development and ultimately Athletic Performance is sometimes assumed. This actually represents a very large part of my role as an S&C coach working with Young Athletes!!! But I digress. Here is what Frank went on to say!!
1 Establish and constantly refine a sound technical model
2 Develop fitness framework which ensures consistently effective technical delivery
3 Develop speed of technical delivery without compromising technical quality
4 Develop capacity to operate in training, competition and lifestyle with consistent quality where optimal approaches maximal, and maximal continues to progress
5 Rehearse extremes and interference to performance environment/conditions
6 Learn to read the game and join up the dots in competition and preparation to leverage competitive advantage
7 Win and win and win . .. . .
I agree with this approach and as I unpack my own philosophy (using the 5 S’s and 6 stages of LTAD) you will see how I too build an athlete on the same foundations of SUPPLENESS > SKILL > STRENGTH > SPEED > STAMINA
Well that sums up the first principle and in the next Post I will talk more about a few of the things I learnt from listening to Bill.