Lessons missed but learned over time

When I took my first coaching course way back in 2002 the curriculum was like anything introductory, a broad overview. It provided all the tidbits of information necessary. Now, full disclaimer this posting is not a critique on anyone or anything that I have learned. I am very proud and grateful of the coached education system in Canada and the coaches whom I have had the chance to learn from. And while nothing is perfect I do feel that the Canadian system is a leader in coach’s education globally. While each sport has their strengths and weaknesses and all sports in Canada have had a lovely time in dealing with changes in the coaching education system from numbered levels to names to changes in those names. It has been a fun and on many occasions confusing experience but I do believe in the foundation and direction of it all.

Here is a list of all of my formal education courses that I have taken over the last thirteen years. Noting that this list does not include clinics, camps, and more holistic experiences but if you want to see all that send me a message.

September 2002        NCCP Theory 1

March 2003                Technical 1 – Track and Field (Kevin Cumming)

September 2003        Certification 1 – Track and Field

September 2003       Technical 2 – Track and Field (Distance – Doug Lamont)

March 2004                Run, Jump, Throw Instructor Course

November 2004        NCCP Theory 2

April 2005                  Technical 1 – Gymnastics (Doug Hillis)

April 2005                  Technical 1 – Volleyball (Leslie Irie)

November 2005         NCCP Level 3 – Theory

February 2006            Run, Jump, Throw – Instructor (Trained)

April 2006                    Technical 2 – Sprints & Hurdles (Glenn Bruce)

April 2006                    Technical 3 – Distance (Claude Berube)

May 2006                     BSc. Kinesiology (Exercise and Sport) – University of Saskatchewan

August 2006                 Level 3 Technical – Sprints and Hurdles (Derek Evely, Kevin Tyler, & Mike Murray)

February 2008             Planning and Periodization Specialist – Bompa Certification System

May 2008                      Certification 3 – Sprints & Hurdles

October 2008                Charter member of Coaches of Canada – Chartered Professional Coach (ChPC)

December 2008           Club Coach (Level 2 Technical) – (Terry Mountjoy) Jumps                                     “Trained”

November 2012           Competition Development Course – Jumps (Les Gramantik)                                    “Trained”

March 2013                  Fundamental Movement Skills – Learning Facilitator

July 2013                      Competition Development – Endurance Certified

December 2013            IAAF Level V Sprints & Hurdles Diploma Program – Candidate (Submitted August 2014)

May 2014                       Run, Jump, Throw – Instructor (Certified)

Through this time period not only have I changed but also the world. Yes, I am young and only going to be thirty-one years old this year so my perception obviously is that the world has changed. But I only need to use the Internet as my example. During this time period the amount of information online is greater than anything I could have ever imagined. From a coaching perspective I can watch workouts on just about any athlete from anywhere in the world through YouTube or FaceBook. I can listen to audio podcasts from hundreds of coaches giving their viewpoints on things. I can search journal articles in seconds to read about the latest studies that was carried out.  I can read workouts from athletes done in the 70’s one second and then compare that to a video of yesterday’s workouts..maybe Workout Wednesday on FloTrack . This amount of information is sometimes extremely overwhelming and it can be hard to know exactly what is correct. This is why having some key beliefs and philosophies are important as well as a basic scientific understanding of your sport/event area but that is not where I intend to go today.

At this point I am going to touch on my list of four things that were and have been missed in the educational experiences and this has nothing to do with the courses but rather the level as a coach that I am now starting to coach at. These are things that for myself have grown in importance. So without further a do…

Flexibility

We can’t control and manipulate everything. Sickness happens. School, family, life. They all happen. We plan, organize, and try to manipulate the body to adapt and improve. But at the same time we must be flexible to change. I tell my athletes if the plan is so specific that it doesn’t account for small changes the impact of this is going to lead to significant stress, if not psychological issues, to both the coach and athlete.

Snowmageddon 2015

Snowmageddon 2015

Lately, the major concern for Atlantic Canada in terms of why flexibility is important is in regards to weather. In Saint John we have already seen upwards of 180cm of snow, which resulted in a state of emergency being declared, and now being told to expect another 50cm this Sunday. Why is this important?  Well when the city shuts down so to does practice. So what do you do? For myself it comes down to a state of mind. Be positive and confident that you can take a day off from the track.  Think of it as extra rest that is needed. From there focus on what you can do. Maybe a strength circuit, maybe some Mach drills in the basement, some pre-hab drills, rolling, stretching, and visualization. Can we get the heart rate up? Yes. Can we get some tissue work in? Yes. Can we sprint? No, but should we sit around and moan about it or be positive and embrace what we can do. Be positive. Be optimistic and be flexible when it is needed.

Data Part 1 – Objective Numbers/Tracking/Comparison

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. This business adage holds very true to coaches also. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), KSIs (Key Success Indicators), gap analysis, competition data and norms, practice data and norms, testing, workouts, health, sleep, diet, RPE (Rate of Perceieved Exertion), volume, intensity, contacts, weights. This list can go on and on and I am the first to admit that it can be very daunting. However, the more data, the more numbers, the more objective information that you have as a coach the easier your role as a coach can be at times.

When I started coaching I did my best to track volume and contacts and I will say I did a pretty good job of this. But what I didn’t do was relate this to intensity. All volume was equal and all volume that was planned for was the goal. Definitely something that I don’t preach any more. Volume and intensity are themselves highly variable. Some friends and I have a Facebook chat where we are known to talk random crap but more frequently on coaching matters. On this subject of tracking load the following was noted….”2x150m @ 14.9s is a shitload more load than 4x150m @ 17.5s.” But as a coach who works with athletes across all events this can be a daunting task. How do you calculate a load on 6 short long jump approaches? 6 full approaches? How about triple? What about the combined events athlete? The thrower? HRV can work and is supported by many but it also costs money, compliance can be an issue, and for some individuals it isn’t the best. But in the end even though we look for norms, causation, and some sort of rationalization with what we do it is always an experiment of 1 (N=1). Because no matter how similar athletes are they are individuals and no two are exactly the same. However, all information is not equal. Is it repeatable? Is it scientific in nature? Why are you tracking it? How are you tracking it? Stop watch, free lap system, laser timing system, opto-jump? Are you using video? Are you objectively comparing or subjectively? And while I am not a pro and have developed and refined my systems over the years they are still in their infancy and being improved, slowly. I have been fortunate to get a freelap timing system. I bought a video camera years ago that allows for some decent slow motion video clips and am making a very active effort to video much than previously.   Proably one of the most important though is that I am very lucky and fortunate as a full time professional coach to have time.  Do I do a perfect job? Not even close. But am I slowly learning and getting better? I like to think so.

Data Part 2 – Excel/Numbers (whatever program you use)

This one is short and sweet. Get good at using an online system/software. I used to use excel then went to numbers as I have grown more used to my Mac but am now coming back to excel using YouTube videos to add in some power and skill in using it with hopefully some courses in the near future. I did learn quite a bit in university so am not a total noob but am not as proficient as I need to be. So slowly but surely I am improving. It takes time. It is tedious at times but it is extremely valuable. I keep a results file where I track results of athletes that I work with – not all but a good majority. And as one of my females is graduating grade twelve this year a few post-secondary institutions are recruiting her. So a few clicks of the track pad and all of her results since 2012 when I started working with her are emailed to them, which is a great thing to be able to do. Throw in funding and grant applications, meetings, and reporting on athletes the ability to access objective data is huge. Numbers speak far louder than approximations and subjective words plus if you do need to provide numbers it will save hours of trying to find them when it comes.

Knowledge and Humbleness

This last one is again straightforward. Get comfortable in doubting yourself…to a point. What is he/she doing? What does this study mean? What does that study mean? How does it fit together? Should I do that? Should I change? Should I adapt the plan? I believe that all of these are part of the learning process. The process of gaining and seeking knowledge and improving yourself as a coach. But this has to come with balance. There is too much information out there. So what do you do? Do you attack a specific area? Do you go with a shot gun approach and go all over the place? Do you change on a whim? What is your litmus test? What is your process for implementing change? What are your rules?

Don’t get me wrong. My athletes constantly tell me how confident I am. At times this is true but what they don’t see is when I sit in the office refining their plans for the next phase. Comparing that to their annual plan that I laid out months before and continually change, minimally. Reflecting on the last phase or two. Seeing how they all come together. Comparing this plan to notes I have made about other programs, ideas, suggestions to employ in the future. When I was in Florida in 2013 for IAAF Sprints and Hurdles Academy course John Smith spoke on this topic. Now, I paraphrase but he stated that he isn’t a smart man and when he sees or hears of something new he must find the answer for that topic in regards to how it fits. Fits in relation to him, his athletes, his program, his beliefs, and experiences. Further stating that there are things that he saw decades ago that he is still not smart enough to understand so he hasn’t implemented it.   What did I take from this and make apart of my coaching and life philosophy. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why coaches do everything that they do but when I see something I write it down/make a mental note. I try to study it. I research it. I think about it. At times I too am not smart enough to understand a topic and leave it on the back burner until one day I might. Other times I get the answer rather quickly and I see that my program is missing that component and would benefit from it. Other times I find out that the item in question is not for me, not for my athletes, for my program at the present time. Do I forget about that item forever? No, because it may be something that I need in the future so I put it in the file cabinet to be accessed in time. I know that there are a number of correct answers. There are a number of incorrect answers but there is exponentially more found in the middle where it just depends on who, what, when, where, why, how. In the end….I am smart enough to know that I am not that smart!

So with all that in mind I thank you for reading this post. I hope you have learned something yourself or possibly even learned something about me. I know that as I continue to write and post I learn about myself and enjoy this process.

UNB crew at McGill Team Challenge 2015

UNB crew at McGill Team Challenge 2015

McGill 2015

McGill 2015