There are 2 things Strength and Conditioning Coaches need to start doing.
1. We need to stop calling ourselves Strength & Conditioning Coaches. Athletic Development Coach or simply Athletic Coach is a much better name, more descriptive of what the good ones really do and easier for people to get their heads around, especially sports coaches. Remember we are trying to develop Athletes for Athletic pursuits.
2. We need to use our time better in the gym. We need to live, breath and teach that athletic concept all the time to the athletes and teams we come into contact with. The gym should be a centre of Athleticism, not just a place to lift weights and look in the mirror.
To be the best you can be at your sport there is 3 major modalities you need to conquer for yourself - Skill, Mental Strength and Athleticism. Now it is my belief that all 3 are intrinsically linked and support each other. But to practice them we do have to break them down individually somewhat first. Alot of whats required can be developed within the sports, training and games themselves. But not everything. Each of these can be improved in almost everyone. This belief in "natural talent" is a bit misleading. Some people are born with more physical capabilities than others, that we cannot deny. However everyone can push themselves to be the best they can be. We can aim to be more complete athletes, and its not as hard as people think it is and its not as complicated as us Strength & Conditioning Coaches like to make out to enhance our own sense of importance. We are important, but still a support to the team or athlete. Coaching is evolving, and the future coach will have to have a decent to deep understanding of all aspects of his/her sport. The best Head Coaches now have at least an appreciation, if not a real deep knowledge of, the fundamentals of physical and mental preparation. Many of the leading Head Coaches and Managers in Ireland have studied S&C and/or Sports Psychology and they are also then willing to engage and seek help from those who are experts in the field periodically while working with team and fellow coaches in an applied manner continually. Even at Club level this is where the future Coach has to go. It is also where the future S&C Coach has to go. We have to become Sports Coaches, and we have to get a better understanding of the needs, culture, psychology and parameters of the sports we work in.
Most S&C Processes are Pyramids of reductionism. Pyramids is standard thinking amongst S&C Coaches and Sports Science in general about what Athleticism is. However i think this is too simplified and invites separation. This separation is a problem in sports. The level doesn't matter, if a team has a Head Coach and has a Fitness Coach/S&C Coach, they have to be intrinsically linked. The Physical preparation firstly has to match general Athletic Development (GPP, Train-to-Train), then it has to match the demands of the sport itself more closely (Train-to-Play/Compete), then it has to match the Head Coaches (Train-to-Win) vision for his/her team which hopefully is based around the capabilities and strengths of the players available. There is too much of "That's your job, and this is my job".
The athleticism image i created below and at the top of this post is where Athleticism really is in my opinion. It is something i put together that's a more complete description of athleticism to my mind, and it also gives an indication of where i think S&C Coaching needs to go (and is going & gone in some circles and sports). Many of these modalities take place on the field or court by simply playing the game, but to improve some of these critical aspects a deeper, clever approach is needed. This searching for improvement takes work. So both sports coach and "Athletic Coach" need to search for the answers, ideally together. That way they are doing the best for the athletes and/or the team.
But for the sake of discussion we can melt down those 12 components of Athleticism for Sport to Mentality, Skill and general Athleticism.
So why do we ignore a huge amount, sometimes 2/3rds, of those areas that make up our sports mastery?
Why do we very often completely ignore developing our mental skills and strength? I often say to field sports athletes that i coach "think about training the brain like you think about working on your weak side". It takes practice.
If you are involved in multi-directional field or court sport and you do some strength work its probably along the lines of this
1. Good but base line- Decent stability, mobility and dynamic stability work in Warm up. 4-6 lifts based around squat, hinge, push-pull, jump, land & rotate.
2. Ok - Just head in there, knock out Squats, deads, bench and chins and maybe a few planks thrown in.
3. Shit (and still amazingly common) - Bodybuilding sessions of 10-15 exercises at 10-12 reps. Or even "Split-Days" with legs one day and back another and so on.
No.1 & 2 will work well for a good % of people. Especially those who have naturally super mechanics and movement generally comes easy to them. Or also the group of athletes who have particularly good field/court/skills coaches who are delivering alot more of what is needed for true Athleticism. They may even know whats going on in the gym. They may be on top of everything and they may have a total wholistic approach to their athlete management, preparation and loading. Those people are rare and you are very lucky. More of these people are appearing, and that's the way Coaching and S&C is going, but we have a ways to go yet.
You might be from group 3, and you may well get some benefit from this type of training for a period of time. This is a type of training i am seeing alarmingly in Online "GAA", Soccer & Rugby more and more these days. Online ""Coaches"" who just happen to be good at marketing or indeed pay someone who is good at it. But the benefits of this type of training will disipate quickly enough and lead to a lack of athleticism rather than an improvement.
Now we only know what we know. Athletes everywhere are only doing what they think is best at that point in time. I even did a bit of no.3 and very often still do 1&2 and will continue to program some athletes in this way as it best suits them and their lives. Sometimes time is a factor, facilities can be a factor.
But i have personally been moving towards a different approach to strength & conditioning, the use of gyms and facilities in general. Over the next few months i am going to deliver a number of workshops here in Ballincollig to outline this. The workshops will be once a month, giving those who attend a chance to apply some of the things they learn and feel suitable for them and their sport. It will particularly suit GAA teams, coaches and clubs with the Pre-Season just starting.
The theme of the work shops will be
So here there is a plan, and again you will notice its a pyramid. This is a great example of not getting locked into one way of thinking (even though we all do sub-
Workshop 1 - Train-to-Train, Preparing the body for more intense work
Workshop 2 - Train-to-Play. Increase in physical output allied to more intense sport specific work
Workshop 3 - Train-to-Win. Developing tactical training and game plans as well as sharpening the fitness elements
Workshop 4 - Maintaining and developing all aspects throughout the year with mini-preseasons and athlete stimulation.
Particularly on any consultancy work i do, which is generally supporting a Manager/coach in an amateur field sports team and also in teams i am directly involved with my aim is to make the players the most robustly athletic players they can be. For this to work there has to be alot of commununation and integration for this to be achieved. And it WILL NOT be achieved easily or quickly. There are 2 main approaches and both are determined by facilities. And both are heavily reliant on the will of the players and coaches to work together and work towards excellence.
1. Integrating the athletic development work into Field/court sessions
This would involve the use of facilities smartly. Many amateur clubs across many sports now have some form of gym facilities available to them on their club grounds. I think they need to be making more use of this. Use facilities for some movement prep and maybe activation/plyometrics/shock work before hand and do some strength work afterwards. In Pre-Season training 3 times a week this way with maybe a friendly/game-play only day at the weekend would be a great way of building a team, and also gives players plenty days off without ever really loading them too hard on the Strength side of things.
2. Making external gym sessions more athletic, and moving away from exclusively "weightlifting". This is when facilities, or a Head Coach, do not allow a full integration S&C into the main sessions. Very often you will hear "Players need to do that on their own time". This is both a cop out (at least when the service/expertise or facilities are available) by the coach and a lack of respect for the players time which is critical in the overall development of any athlete, downtime, friend time, family time, partner time and so on.
Below is a look at one session i did recently. Around 75% of this session is lifted from Joel Smiths "Legendary Athletic" Program. I have followed and enjoyed alot of Joels stuff in recent years. Joel is a S&C Coach but deals largely with Track & Field Athletes and in particular Jumpers. However i knew he had a few gems there but i wanted to see how he structured it. So i paid for it and have been following for a while now. Its clear we are very much along the same line of thinking and i did indeed pick up a few things i will use myself. The program itself does not agree with me completely so i have had to adjust a bit here and there, just a reminder that no program is ever perfect.
The 25% of my own was a combination of the extra need for aerobic elements as an aging Gaelic Footballer, an extra fat loss boost after christmas and a small need to throw in a few extra Deadlifts. Joels program probably demanded 55-65 mins. This session took me 80 minutes.
Things to note
To finish, this is only the start. And its one day in an individuals proram, essentially i am like an individual sports athlete. As i indicate above, teams are different and i myself would not have team players in a gym for 80 minutes. But I am seeing the need for change in S&C, Sports Coaching, Coaching Education and everything else involved. I'm not alone in this and this change is happening with a while in many places. However there is still massive resistance to it in many quarters.
The one thing i am constantly reminded of is the volunteers in many GAA, Soccer and Rugby clubs all over Ireland who bent over backwards todevelop clubs and get facilities only for them to be completely underused.
Keep an eye out for the Athleticism for Field Sports Workshops coming up near Cork in the very near future. Or clubs can arrange a series for themselves over the Pre-Season and into early season works well. 4 Nights spread out over 3-4 months with a practical session included.
If you want any more information, or even a casual chat, don't be afraid to contact me at any of the below contacts.
Kevin Mulcahy, Human Movement Coach
The Movement Coach,
Ground Floor, Carrig House, Main St, Ballincollig, Co. Cork
Twitter - @movementcoachkm
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