This past week, I participated in an online conference called Evolution of an Athlete.
Now in its sixth year, EOA is a unique five day online conference with two speakers per day speaking for up to 90 minutes. This year, the speakers ranged from coaches to athletes, scientists to professors. The conference was designed for individual and team coaches at both the developmental and elite level.
I look forward to listening in next year and highly recommend this to any coach or athlete. Coaches, to learn more about the “softer” skills of coaching and athletes to learn more about the process and belief systems behind how you’re being coached. It wasn’t cheap but it was well worth the time (and, you can still purchase the conference and listen to all of the presentations).
I thought I would pass along some of my favorite takeaway points from some of my favorite presentations. Enjoy!
Tim Noakes: Brain Regulation & Exercise Performance
- The brain will only allow you to exercise as fast as you’ll be safe exercising
- Many top athletes speed up at the end of the race indicating control by intent not by limitation (you always have a reserve).
- If you think you can, you can.
- Once you say “I don’t think I can”, your brain must work within this constraint.
- Franz Stampfl: Training is principally an action of faith. The athlete must believe that through training he will become fitter and stronger. He must believe that through training his performance will improve and continue to improve indefinitely as long as he continues to train to progressively stiffer standards. The greatest hurdle is the mental barrier.
- Herb Elliot: To run a world record, you have to have the absolute arrogance to think you can run a mile faster than anyone who’s ever lived; then you have to have the absolute humility to actually do it.
- Fatigue is the excuse we use to justify our lack of will.
- Depending on your perception of yourself, you are likely to exaggerate or limit what you’re feeling. You make a decision; you either become more or less tired. Your brain produces symptoms of fatigue in a way that is unique to you.
- Once you ask, “I don’t know if I can do it,” you justify quitting, the brain will then make you more tired & you’re more likely to report you were “exhausted” after the race.
- When the brain says “we can’t do it anymore,” you don’t have to believe you can. The best athletes never ask the question, instead they say, “No, I’m going to win this race”, the brain responds accordingly.
- Your real contribution to an athlete, as a coach, is what you do to their mind.
Craig Duncan: Keeping the Message Simple
- We need to present our message, as coaches and scientists, in a way that makes sense to others.
- The ultimate goal is to give information in a way that makes athletes perform better.
- Knowledge isn’t important if you can’t communicate it.
- Begin with an athlete with the end point in mind.
David Martin: Physiological Manifestations of Belief Effects in Sports
- All of the data available to us can make us feel very empowered but we, as coaches, can start to feel like we are programming a robot.
- Even if we know the key variables that predict performance, success is not as simple as talent identifying the right athlete.
- Sport is emotional, life is always happening – this gets in the way of models that predict performance.
- When athletes succeed, it’s not because of technology or training, often it has to do with the emotional context and belief they have in themselves.
- Coaches should maintain hope and instill belief in their athletes.
- Eddie Robinson: Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of the men and getting them to believe in you.
- Good coaches talk about what they do to excel at leadership and keep hope alive even when athletes are struggling (as opposed to writing about their methods or workouts).
- Placebo effect in sports is actually a belief effect; in sport if you strongly believe something will work, it probably will.
- When you’re familiar with an active ingredient and take it – the athletes tends to believe more and feel a performance benefit from it.
- Expectations influence sensations that you feel (ie., pain relief, caffeine).
- A great coach is a great leader and creates an environment where athletes have purpose and believe.
Grant Jenkins: Turning Worriers Into Warriors: Getting Good Trainers to Become Good Competitors
- Coaching is more than sets, workouts, reps; it’s about the soft skills of coaching & getting athletes to connect to us.
- A good “elite” competitor finds a way to win - always.
- A good “developmental” competitor does not give up, focuses on the process and implements new strategies for each new situation they face.
- A good trainer does what coach asks of them in a manner the coach expects it to be done.
- Good trainer + good competitor = they compete hard, they do as they’re asked and get results too.
- Athletes may train well but not compete well due to mindset (see Carol Dweck’s book); some have been told they’re intelligent or talented and when in competition they might tank, find excuses or develop “injuries” to avoid competing so they are not exposed and can protect their “identity” as a talented/intelligent person.
- Coaches should praise athletes for what they are actually doing – not innate traits or skills (ie., not being fast or talented).
- If someone creates an identity that they are a competitor, they will do what’s necessary to protect that identity.
- As a coach, learn to change threats into challenges for athletes. Instead of looking at a competition or test set as a test of who you are, view it as an assessment of where you are.
- If you can change the perception of an athlete, you can change the result.
- It’s the mind that is the athlete, not just the body.
Paddy Upton: Leadership Essentials for the Progressive Coach
- Athletes prefer less instruction and more collaboration, focus more on the athlete personally than their game/sport.
- Coaches give too much instruction; too much focus on the visible/skills/strategies/tactics.
- Focus on an athlete’s inner experience and build from that rather than just instructing them.
- People management will take performance to the next level, NOT technology.
- Traditional coaching models create non-thinking athletes.
- Coach needs to support athletes to think; ask good questions, give quality feedback, add input as only the last option (don’t decide for them).
- The more an athlete becomes secure about who they are as a person separate from the sport, they more they are able to let go of the need to do well; the more they can free up and express themselves on the field unattached from the results.
- Create intentional relationships with athletes: do your job to serve athletes to be the best they can be (as athletes and people).
Alex Hutchinson: The New Recovery: Protocols and Periodization
- Prevention works better than cure: doing proper warm up is more effective than post-workout massage, ice bath, compression.
- Prevention can also simply be better training design (gradually increasing intensity, load, duration).
- Ice bath best done for 10-15 minutes at 10-15 degrees Celsius.
- Contrast baths are not effective.
- Ice bath “belief effect”: if your core body temperature drops and you believe the ice bath will help, more likely to perform better next day.
- Massage best done immediately after workout for best recovery of strength, less inflammation.
- Massage does not flush out lactate or bring in fresh blood (that’s not how it works).
- Recovery aims to speed up the repair process, lessen inflammation.
- Recovery short-term determines your adaptation long-term. Still unanswered: do we want to interfere with this recovery process?
- If you train hard for 60 minutes and do 30 minutes of “recovery” to remove some of the stress resulting from training, is this interfering with the adaptation? Some research says YES.
- Periodize your recovery like your training.
- During base when goal is adaptation, use proper sleep/nutrition but scale back recovery modalities (don’t use after every workout).
- During competition when goal is performance, increase use of ice, compression, massage in addition to proper sleep/nutrition.
- Aim for the minimum effective dose of recovery that enables you to achieve your goals in the next training session (more recovery is not always better).
David Hodge: Harden Up Your Soft Skills
- No rapport with athlete = no influence = no change.
- Goal is to get change from an athlete in a positive manner.
- Soft skills are widely underemphasized by very important.
- Most coaches know technical, tactical, mental, physical side of coaching very well but soft skills allow coach to take knowledge of those 4 and be a better coach to an athlete.
- Soft skill is a personal attribute that allows someone to interact effectively with athletes.
- Many new coaches try to take data/research and just apply it to an athlete; this doesn’t work.
- Observing/reading/hearing information does not equal experience.
- The goal for a coach should be high performance, not just high knowledge.
- You need to know what to do with the knowledge and when to use it.
- Coaching is not just about knowledge, it’s about building relationships.
- Once you have a strong relationship, you can maximize strong results.
- Coaches work with people; look at them as people first and then deal with them as athletes.
- Reflect on your coaching to learn more about your philosophy and how you work with athletes.
- If you have to repeat yourself often as a coach, you’re teaching it but they’re not learning it.
- Coaches need to develop committed and compelled athletes (but not cross the line into obsessed athletes).
- A sign of experience is admitting you’re wrong or saying I don’t know (this allows others around you to do the same).
- Better athletes come to coaches for more information.
- Often there will be a conflict between data and what you’ve observed – data isn’t everything, soft skills help you see athletes as unique.
- Get to know an athlete (their birthday, personal life, favorite things, interested, etc).
- Communicate with athletes in a way that they prefer not how you prefer.
Good coaches know that good coaching is more than just understanding the science, skill and physiology of your sport. You can find countless courses, webinars or books on how to write workouts or how to design a training plan. But what about the other side of coaching? The one that realizes that coaching is first and foremost about the athlete? This conference was a refreshing education on the importance of that other side - the art of combining psychology, communication, motivation within the context of what you know technically/scientifically and what the athlete is trying to achieve in a way that resonates with the athlete so that both coach and athlete can achieve results.
Looking forward to “attending” next year!