Coaching Types Continued

The power of the internet and social media is incredible. The previous blog on coaching types has been read in many parts of the World and many of my former colleagues have asked me which type they are…the answer is simple, you know who you are, just have a laugh, think about what you can do to change (if you need/want to).
I have few more types to introduce, let’s wrap this up and in the following articles I will cover something about building good working relationships in high performance sport (or surviving in a pool of sharks as sometimes it may feel like).

Here they are:

6. The Bully

The bully is a coaching type you can come across frequently. This type is very popular in team sports and combat sports (stereotyping…I know…). This type is loved by CEOs of team sports clubs and tends to get hired to replace another coach when the season is going badly. It is in fact popular belief with general managers and CEOs of sports club (should write something about them as well…) that when a team is not performing you need to hire a bully as many times the perception from the boardroom is that the athletes and staff are not “working hard enough”. The bully comes in, shouts at everyone constantly and controls everything. The bully does not like freedom of expression nor alternative ideas. With the bully you execute and you have to be prepared to have a shouting match. With the bully heated discussions do not happen behind closed doors, they happen on the field, in front of anybody (that’s why he/she is a bully!). The bully has a plan most of the times (in his head), and when shared with staff and players it is fixed. The bully does not grasp the concept of progressive overload (in fact, the word progressive does not belong to his/her vocabulary). The periodisation plan of the bully is affected by good and bad results. Bad results = massive increase in training volume and intensity, good results = constant high volume and intensity. 

8. The friend coach

The friend coach is the nice guy. The one that sometimes even when results are bad can’t be fired because “he is such a nice guy”. The nice guy reads a lot of psychology and sociology. The nice guy does not shout and will refer any sign of DOMS to the medical team for an MRI (just in case). The friend coach cares about the health of the athletes, their families, the staff and the fans. He/She wants to make sure everyone is happy. The friend coach likes questionnaires, psychological profiling and likes to talk. His/her training approach has solid pedagogical foundations. It’s the Montessori approach to training in fact! The friend coach has a plan, but this is discussed with the athletes and staff. Everyone has a say and in the end nobody has a plan as most of the times the friend coach facilitates an anarchic system where everybody does whatever he/she likes to do when they like to do it. As a sports scientist supporting the friend coach you will need to be firm and organised (but this is a trait you need anyway for every other coach) as otherwise you will not get much done. New iterations of the friend coach these days contain “new age” elements. Sometimes in fact training sessions can be performed barefoot and with soft music in the background (have you ever tried to lift weights with Mozart’s music blasted in the gym?). He/she can take you to a camping trip so you can all bond and/or perform a training session in weird/remote places. When a friend coach is sacked there are lots of tears and teams might need weeks of therapy to recover from the loss. This is very different from the sacking of a bully coach where teams celebrate the release with fireworks displays.
9. The Statistician
The Statistician loves his/her numbers. Very common coaching type in CGS (centimetres,grams or seconds) sports. The statistician knows how fast Usain Bolt run when he was 11 and has learnt mnemonically the World ranking in his and other events for the last 30 years. The statistician make s use of numbers and loves numbers. His/her training sessions are detailed. You will know how much, how many times, how fast/slow, with what cadence and sometimes you might have add-ons like breathing rate! The statistician will get your brain going, so make sure you learn all key times and bring a calculator as sometimes you may fall into the trap of believing the numbers to find out later that they were utterly wrong (sometimes!). The statistician also loves predicting performances. He/she is able to tell you fast somebody will run/swim/cycle just by knowing how many push ups/medicine ball throws the athlete performs together with his body mass, speed in specific distances and age. How does he/she do that? Easy! The statistician uses secret formulas which were developed in East Germany in the 50s and were obtained from another coach after winning a drinking competition in a Bar in Budapest or exchanged for a box of cigars before the Berlin wall came down. The formula has also been “improved” by the statistician coach over the years adding a k he/she developed which improves the precision of the predictions. If you think you can go on PubMed and look for the formula you are a fool. There is no trace. Your best bet is to head to Budapest and try to find the Bar. Support to the statistician is relatively easy if you know your numbers and you provide evidence based reports. However, if you don’t know or understand statistics, you are better off considering a career in another industry as this one takes no prisoners.
10. The SAS coach
One of my favourites and loved by everyone with OCD. The SAS coach applies military techniques to coaching and managing staff. Your morning meetings will be at 07 hundred hours (0700 am) and will start with a briefing. Anybody arriving late to anything will have to do 20 push ups. The SAS coach has a plan, everything is planned to detail with exact times and list of activities. Meetings are sharp and run on strict agendas and end with a series of actions. Athletes and staff know their roles and responsibilities. There is no place for complacency, no compromise means no compromise. When SAS coach asks you to do something, he/she is not asking. It’s an order. Training sessions are built on solid routines. Everything is built on solid routines. The SAS coach is not a bully, but he/she can be at times. Definitively more organised than any other type, however sometimes lacks empathy. So some staff or athletes may get the “hairdryer” treatment at times, but the SAS coach means well. He/she demands excellence (and most of the times obtains it!). Not everybody can work with the SAS coach. The main aspect is to be incredibly well organised, have good routines and deliver consistent excellence.


So, my list is finished. Joking aside, in order to work with various coaches in a sports science role you need to:

– Understand how the coaches work, what is their experience/background and what their philosophy
– Learn about their approach/take notes/ask questions/observe/measure where possible
– Reinforce all the positive, anything that works
– Discuss what does not work when you have evidence and not when their philosophy does not match yours
– Be organised, have good plans, gather (relevant) data to improve the quality of service you can provide to the coach/athlete unit
– Remember you are part of the support team, not the main actor, your place is behind the scenes
– No one is indispensable
– If you get a chance, get some coaching qualifications and try to coach somebody in any sport, you will find out that putting the human performance puzzle together is not as easy as running an incremental test in a lab
– If you think you know everything it is time for you to move on, working with athletes of any level/age allows you to discover something new every day if you ask the right questions (or assess routinely certain aspects) and critically appraise what you do
– Be prepared to have the difficult conversations (and many times you will be at the receiving end!)
– Never forget that when working with a team or an individual athlete everyone is trying to do the same thing (improving performance) but each member of the team might do it in a different way
– Never lose sight of the big picture

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Coaching types

In the last few weeks I have been reflecting a lot about the evolution of the coaching profession. When I started my career in Sport, I was more interested in coaching than sports science, later on I drifted to science, mainly because I am the kind of person mostly interested in evidence and numbers, in structures and processes and find difficult to get lost in philosophies and opinions which unfortunately still permeate part of the coaching community.
In my view, coaching is teaching. It is about making people better, and it is about “igniting” passion for something. Coaching is about facilitating the expression of talents as well as instilling a culture of hard and honest work and passion for the activity the athlete is doing.
So, when I was coaching, I aspired to be a great teacher, a great motivator, a man with a plan able to communicate clearly to my athletes what we were doing and why and I tried to measure and understand most of what I was doing in order to separate the good from the bad. In my view at the time, a great coach was also an excellent communicator, and was somebody able to facilitate creativity within a structure of play (I was a Handball coach after all). 
As a Strength and Conditioning coach I was clear about my role: I had to make my athletes stronger and faster and robust enough to endure training and competition. Over the years my career has taken different directions, from pure science to scientific support to managing holistic approaches to performance. In such roles I have met many coaches and practitioners with my daily interactions, but I also came across many individuals in coaching conferences, workshops and seminars and also on the Internet. I have to say that over the years I learnt to “box” coaches according to the way they work and would like to share this on my blog. This is not a critique to the people working in a coaching role, but is a tongue-in-cheek  blog which I hope it can be used for self reflection to understand where the coaching career is going and also be used as a guide for young sports scientists.
1. The multi-medal winner who is always right
This is challenging coach to work with. He/She has won everything there was to win, has been successful over the years and is grounded on his/her beliefs of what works and what does not work. In general, the multi medal winner is obsessed with (old) routines and thinks that his/her way is the ONLY way to improve performance and win. The only way to win his/her trust is learn about his work, collect evidence. Build and collect evidence and he/she will listen to you. With no evidence your philosophy and your beliefs count nothing. After all, he/she has won everything, not you, so why should the coach listen to you?
2. The motivator
The motivator gets incredible attention from staff and athletes. He/She can get anybody to climb mount Everest. He/She is capable of inspiring the most incredible performances. However most of the times he/she is completely disorganised. Cannot put together a structured plan with a sense, improvises and has no idea why certain things work and what does not work. If you work with a motivator coach you will always be in a great environment but unstructured and random. So what you will need as a sports scientist is organization and structure. The motivator suffers from ego-boosts periods when things go well and excessive rehearsals of Al Pacino’s any given sunday speeches when things go pear shaped, so be ready for loads of pep talks and inspirational videos.
3. The Lecturer
This coach is going to lecture everybody, his/her athletes and hi/her staff. However, just like any university lecturer, few times athletes and staff will fall asleep…The lecturer coach is always prepared (to give a lecture) but most of the times what he lectures about is not what he/she coaches. He is too busy to put together cool quotes to self reflect and find out that what he thinks he/she is doing is not what is happening. Sports science support to a lecturer coach is challenging as it means many times falling into the trap of producing power point slides to get to your points. If you end up working with somebody like that, get ready for death by power point and numerous hours of meetings in which you will be lectured.
4. The pseudo-science guru
This one is fascinating. This is the guru. The one that also has sometimes cargo-cult science following. He/she is always right just like the first type, is a great motivator and a lecturer. Is the combination of all of the above. What makes this type more dangerous than others is that this coach reads stuff. Blogs, books, articles in Russian, philosophy theories, books nobody has read or can buy, and has a side interest in physics. This type comes up with new terms previously unknown to mankind and claims facts that were published in some obscure journals (or on the walls of a cave) which helped him/her develop the new theory of coaching. This one is lethal, because will challenge any sports scientists using collections of sciency words in random order and will confuse you so badly that at times you will think that what you learnt in your degrees was just a pile of nonsense. He/she has a following after all, and everyone wants to work with him/her. So if you question or refuse to accept the mumbo jumbo you will be quickly dismissed as an innominato, a non believer. Best way to work with this type? Get your facts right, über right! Make sure you translate the mumbo jumbo in something meaningful and take your time to understand how he/she works. Sometimes great gifts are given in ugly packages, so you might learn something new if you listen but this happens rarely. Many times you will shake your head in disbelief and will have to challenge the non sense using scientific facts. Be prepared, as the pseudo-science guru does not like to be contradicted, so unless you are really really good and absolutely correct, you might lose your job before you know it. 
5. The Artist
The artist creates. He/She is never prepared. There is no structure, no plan, no thinking forward, no idea of what happened last week. Nothing, nada de nada. The Artist coach will surprise you with curve balls coming from everywhere. His/Her plans (which reside only in his/her head) will be always changed at the last minute. Whatever you agreed to do will have to change. So if you work with this type, better learn how to sail and read the wind, as the working journey with this type will take you to places you have never been before…This type should come with a warning if you have OCD and/or love structured plans.
… TO BE CONTINUED …

Conference in Italy in November

It is always a pleasure and a surprise to be invited in Italy to speak at a conference. I left Italy many years ago to pursue a career in sports science and research and being invited back home to speak to coaches and sports scientists is always a proud moment and an opportunity to speak my first language again for few days.

The invitation this time has come from the Italian Athletics Federation and CONI for a conference called “Atleticamente”. I have been invited to present in a special session to celebrate my PhD supevisor and mentor Professor Carmelo Bosco. I am very happy about the invitation to this conference and proud also because Bosco’s supervisor, Professor Paavo Komi will be there.

Over the course of my career both Paavo and Carmelo had a great influence. I was always hoping to become as good as they are and have been and to this day they are still a source of inspiration and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to meet them and spend time with them.

I will talk about my work with Prof. Bosco from the Lab to the field as well as my own research work on the present and the future of sports science in the applied setting.

The conference will be a great opportunity also to learn more about other sporting systems and catch up with colleagues and friends few months before London Olympics.

Muscle oxygenation in-vivo

Our paper on the possibility of using Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) to measure muscle oxygenation in-vivo in elite athletes has now been published ahead of print by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

This study is the first of a series of studies constituting the PhD studentship funded by the BOA to study the possibility of using NIRS in the field as a tool to understand performance demands and adaptations to training as well as developing innovative portable integrated brain and muscle devices. The research programme is a collaboration between ourselves, the University of Essex with Professor Chris Cooper and Professor Clare Elwell at University College London.

The main author of this work is Catherine Hesford and you can find more info and contact details here.

More work will be published in the next months and I will write more about this fascinating technique soon on this blog.

The abstracts is available below.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Sep 3. [Epub ahead of print]

Asymmetry of Quadriceps Muscle Oxygenation During Elite Short-Track Speed Skating.

Hesford CM, Laing S, Cardinale M, Cooper CE.

Source

1 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, UK; 2 British Olympic Medical Institute, University College London, UK; 3 University of Aberdeen, School of Medical Sciences, Aberdeen, Scotland (UK), 4 School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Bangor University, UK.

Abstract
PURPOSE:

It has been suggested that due to the low sitting position in short track speed skating, muscle blood flow is restricted, leading to decreases in tissue oxygenation. Therefore wearable wireless-enabled Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) technology was used to monitor changes in quadriceps muscle blood volume and oxygenation during 500m race simulation in short-track speed skaters.

METHODS:

6 elite skaters, all of Olympic standard (age = 23 ± 1.8 years, height 1.8 ± 0.1m, mass = 80.1 ± 5.7kg, mid-thigh skin fold thickness = 6.8 ± 2.2mm) were studied. Subjects completed a 500m race simulation time trial (TT). Whole body oxygen consumption was simultaneously measured with muscle oxygenation in right and left vastus lateralis as measured by NIRS.

RESULTS:

Mean time for race completion was 44.8 ± 0.4 s. VO peaked 20 s into the race. In contrast, muscle tissue oxygen saturation (TSI %) decreased, and plateaued after 8s. Linear regression analysis showed that right leg TSI% remained constant throughout the rest of the TT (slope value = 0.01), whereas left leg TSI% increased steadily (slope value = 0.16), leading to a significant asymmetry (p<0.05) in the final lap. Total muscle blood volume decreased equally in both legs at the start of the simulation. However, during the course of subsequent laps there was a strong asymmetry during cornering; when skaters travelled solely on the right leg there was a decrease in its muscle blood volume whereas an increase was seen in the left leg.

CONCLUSION:

NIRS was shown to be a viable tool for wireless monitoring of muscle oxygenation. The asymmetry in muscle desaturation observed on the two legs in short-track speed skating has implications for training and performance.

Winning margins in Vancouver

The 2010 Winter Olympics are over. It was absolutely brilliant! Great atmosphere, fantastic venues, and most of all for us a gold medal to remember for years.

 

amywillliams

A great show where incredible athletes do amazing things with state of the art technology. Science and technology play nowadays a crucial role for success in winter sports. Every move can be analysed in real time, every turn and the technology used can be dissected to show how good some athletes are. Shaun White won an impressive 2nd gold in the Half Pipe and everyone can see why he was better than everyone else.

Every technique can now be studied in details and athletes and coaches can receive feedback on the field of play. Despite the fact technology plays a big role in most of the winter sports I have to say that as usual, it is the athlete who wins.

Having the right mindset and being totally prepared is what makes the difference.

Physical preparation, nutrition, psychological preparation, fitness all play a role. However most of the times people forget that behind a great athlete there is always a brilliant coach. Coaching seems to be underrated in modern times. Reading some of the media during and after the games, it seems that an athlete wins because he/she is good or because he/she has the most advanced technology. What I can say is that many athletes win because they have incredibly good coaches, able to prepare them very well and most of all TEACH them something more or better than other coaches can do. They are the least celebrated individuals, and in my opinion the people who can really make the difference between winning and losing.

The margins between winning and losing are very small. Fractions of seconds separate a gold medal from a silver, bronze or no medal at all. What role can sports science play?

Sports science can only make an impact if a talented athlete has a talented coach and a structured programme is in place. Science can then help the coaching process pushing to reach the limits of the athlete’s potential and identifying the marginal gains.

There is more to be written on this topic, and I promise to write more in the next few months.