What, Why, How?
Strength and conditioning coaches largely began simply as the ‘weights coach.’ We observed that bigger, stronger, faster athletes often excelled against their smaller, weaker, slower counterparts. With Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome as a guide, these coaches looked to improve the physical abilities of athletes as a whole. The industry itself has grown to include physical training for tactical (military, fire, police) and general populations as well. These concepts have been validated time and time again by researchers and scientists. Cause stress, adapt to stress, become more resilient to stress… pretty simple.
With the what (training), why (improve performance and resilience), and how (technique) understood, one final challenge had to be met: compliance. Challenges with compliance are hardly unique to this industry. In the field of medicine for example, extended release technology was created largely because the compliance of taking a medication multiple times a day was abysmal compared to once a day. That is, it didn’t make the medication any more effective, but simply helped control for human nature. In the field of strength and conditioning, compliance often boils down to one thing: trust.
Especially with a lack of scientific evidence supporting much of what these coaches did, creating trust and building relationships was crucial to being an effective coach. Creating trust takes time, confrontation, transparency, and conflict. Often time individuals have their own ideas on what they should be doing and why that may be conflicting with a coaches philosophy. The ‘because I said so’ coaching method only works for so long. Confrontation and uncomfortable conversations are a constant in most coaches lives.
What’s your bias?
The biases of the ‘old school coach’ are often thought of as negative, however there are many biases that go along with the ‘new school’ as well. With an emphasis on science and research, many young coaches are wizards in Excel and data analysis. They can create a pivot table, but can they teach a squat? They can analyze GPS data, but will they confront a noncompliant athlete? They understand the difference between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, but can they sell themselves, or the culture of their organization? Coaches who have built careers without utilizing these data, or technology are often skeptical of those who rely on them so heavily.
Researchers and scientists will continue to collect more and more data to continue to validate and improve what we know about the what, the why, and the how. Technology can and should help practitioners to collect data and practically apply these findings to their specific situations. But without the emotional intelligence to make changes based on these findings, is there any true value?
Experience is the Ultimate Teacher
In reality most coaches aren’t strictly ‘old school’ or ‘new school’, but fall somewhere on a spectrum. The terms old or new school themselves are a bit archaic, but are simply used to prove a point. This was not intended to be a slight to a younger generation of coaches, but praise to those who built an entire industry from the ground up. Negativity will only continue to widen the gap. There is value in collecting and analyzing objective data to decipher best practices, but this alone will not be enough to truly help our athletes. Just as it is important for strength coaches and sports medicine to align, the strength and conditioning industry itself must align in order to improve the industry as a whole. Relationships, trust, and coaching all matter. While younger coaches may have in-depth knowledge of the latest scientific evidence and research, experience cannot be achieved from simply reading an article. There is far more to learn from an experienced coach than there is from any textbook or research paper.