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Coach the athlete in front of you

Two events in the last 24hrs have prompted me to write this blog…

The first of these was that I was lucky enough to take part in a webinar put together by Steve Ingham from Supporting Champions!

Amongst the topics discussed was how athletes could best cope with the current Covid-19 situation, the lack of racing, the uncertainty etc.

A few ideas were thrown around: being resilient, being mentally tough, staying motivated, to name but a few…

Whilst all of these seem like perfectly good suggestions - what happens if you coach an athlete who has completely lost motivation, or who isn’t particularly resilient, or who doesn’t have an extended support network? What then?

It would seem to me that telling an athlete who is mentally fragile ‘be more resilient’ is like shouting ‘ride faster’ from the side of the velodrome! Your intentions might be in the right place but ultimately it is not much help at all…!

The second event was this morning. While discussing load monitoring methods in a twitter discussion a reply came in that read:

This reply took me a back – firstly because I honestly don’t believe any of my athletes see me as some big brother figure spying on their every move (you would have to ask them I suppose!) and secondly because the data I had anonymously shared in this discussion came from an athlete who has asked to integrate MORE measures into their daily monitoring.

I thought about these two events as was struck by something:

It is seemingly very easy to throw around sweeping statements that apply to all athletes in all situations. We don’t need to look far on twitter or instagram for ‘Gurus’ who proclaim to have found a simple answer. However, my experience, in the real world of working with athletes is that these sweeping statements quickly go out the window!

What we are left with is a nuanced, delicate approach where we take the validated methodologies that we have learned to apply through years of experience and adjust and tailor them to each individual athlete on a case by case basis.

As coaches we (luckily) aren’t dealing with life or death decisions as say a doctor or a paramedic would have to. We are (simply?) trying to maximise the performances of our athletes – not save someone’s life.

However, where I do think there is a cross over is that we are trying to take scientific findings and filter them through our years of experience to provide the best outcome for an individual.

Arguably one of the most stressful situations that a doctor may find themselves in is treating a patient that has just had a stroke and whose blood pressure is dropping! In the medical profession there are ongoing debates about best practice in that circumstance. So much so that it promoted the British Medical Journal to publish an article titled ‘Rapid response: Treating the patient in front of you’

After weighing up various published papers this article concludes with the following sentence:

‘Due to the complexity and diversity of the patient group, clinicians need to be clever in exercising the art of medicine to find the appropriate regimen for each patient’

This sentence landed with me for two reasons, number one: we rarely think of medicine as an ‘art’.

Number two: this sentence could just as easily be refereeing to the application of a sports science intervention with an individual athlete.

Therefore, should we not also be looking at coaching and applied sport science as an ‘art’? Afterall it’s the ‘art’ of applying the science that ultimately decides if the intervention is impactful.

As coaches and sports scientists – when it comes to application – shouldn’t we take a step away from the black and white, away from sweeping statements and instead embrace the nuanced, often imperfect, approach we have to take in order to maximise performance?

Basically, what I am saying is:

Coach the athlete in front of you!
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