“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Socrates
The mark of a great coach is one who can take complex ideas and make them simple. A massive part of this is being able to break a broader topic down into it’s constituent parts, define each element and clearly describe how they fit and work together. Consider the following definitions:
- Strength is the ability to apply muscular force against a source of resistance
- Velocity (speed in laymen’s terms) is the rate of displacement: distance divided by time
- Power is the rate at which energy is transferred in the form of work
- Flexibility is the angle formed between two body segments
- Anaerobic capacity is the total amount of mechanical work that may be performed under predominantly anaerobic exercise conditions etc.
This is not a perfect process. There will of course be debate amongst coaches as to the true definition of some qualities or concepts, their exact action or the interdependence between them. But in my experience the more qualified the coach, the closer they are able to get to the goal.
Consider now the archetypal fitness or strength and conditioning bullshitter. They excel in taking ideas and making them appear excessively complex. They speak in vague “word salads” and when pressed for a definition will resort to circuitous explanations that actually don’t explain anything. How often do you hear these statements:
- “We need to be fitter”
- “He isn’t mentally tough enough”
- “The team needs to be more physical”
What kind of fitness? Which of the three energy systems needs most work? Is it a question of physiological capacity, poor mechanical efficiency, pacing, psychological tolerance or substrate availability via nutrition and supplementation? If we increase one system, what will be the effect on the other two systems? How should the rest of our programme shift as a consequence of this decision? Or should we just do some more tabatas?!
What is mentally tough? What are the psychological constituents of a mentally tough athlete? The ability to withstand stress, to be aggressive, to focus on the task, or to rebound after failure and difficult times? Are we able to measure these traits, and if so, how? How can we structure training tasks to elicit and develop these distinct qualities? Is mental toughness really poor preparation masquerading as poor tactical, technical and physical preparation (it’s easy to look tough when you’re the most prepared team in the league!). Or should be just do some more down ups?!
What is physicality- is it the ability to overcome an opponent in the contact situations of a game? If so, are we entering into these contests with the appropriate strategies to maximise the chances of a successful outcome? Are we executing these strategies with a high level of skill? Have we cultivated the right psychological qualities in training to be effective in these situations? Or should we just do some more squats and beat our chests?!
If you are being coached, press your coach to dig deeper. Ask “why?”. Learn what purpose each exercise, method or tool serves. Find out how each of the training elements fit together and serve the ultimate goal of the programme. Similarly if you are a coach, ask yourself if you are prepared to answer those questions from your athletes. Are you ready to break things down as simply and clearly as possible? If not, it is time to put aside the word salad.