Saturday, August 27, 2011

Focus on Results not Fitness

As a conditioning coach, I am very keen on making my athletes stronger, faster, more agile, etc. But is this always going to lead to better results in their sport?

I am currently doing an online course offered by Ian King and one unit covered philosophies of training. He made the point that “athletic success is not measured in the gym”. This is a concept that every conditioning coach needs to understand and use in the planning of training.

Some conditioning coaches justify their work by demonstrating that the athlete is stronger, has a higher VO2max, or runs the 40 faster. Now a stronger fitter athlete may be a better athlete, but there is not a 1:1 correlation of performance to fitness tests. And hopefully a conditioning coach’s goal is to make the athlete more successful in their sport. Don’t get hung up on improving test results to look good as a coach. Your goal is to empower the athlete to perform better. Unfortunately this is not always easy to prove, especially if you do not have a good working relationship and line of communication with your head coach or the people in power (board of the club, team, or federation).

There does exist scientific work that links fitness to alpine skiing success (Neumayr G, Hoertnagl H, Pfister R, Koller A, Eibl G, Raas E., Physical and physiological factors associated with success in professional alpine skiing. Int J Sports Med. 2003 Nov;24(8):571-5) but this work has been criticized by other scientists (Maffiuletti, N. A.; Impellizzeri, F.; Rampinini, E.; Bizzini, M.; Mognoni, P. Letter to the Editors - Is Aerobic Power Really Critical for Success in Alpine Skiing? Int J Sports Med 2006; 27: 166-167).

There is much debate in the coaching and also in the scientific community as to what really influences performance. I simply want to say that as a conditioning coach do not focus too much on physical qualities unless you KNOW that they improve performance.

I was coaching with a team and official training one day was cancelled. A number of teams then headed to the only gym in town and chaos ensued. Because of the limited space, athletes were trying to find a spot to either work out or just have fun. An athlete from my group was walking around dribbling a basketball and he was not a gifted basketball player. He was heckled by an athlete from another country but was unaware of this. I saw this, and was upset. Athletes I coach are important to me, and I don’t like to see one get abused in any form. I managed to control myself and tried to ignore the primitive and rude remarks of the heckler because my guy was not affected by this. No harm, no foul.

Well, when the race took place we took the top 4 spots and the country of the heckler had 8th place as their top result. I wanted to ask the heckler after the race who had the best basketball team on the circuit, and when he replied that they did, my response would have been “who cares”? I do not like bad winners, so I resisted the temptation. Also, my athlete managed to secure more than 4 times as many podium finishes than his heckler over his career.

At the same town and gym, but with a different team, I was in the gym and my guys were training on a trampoline. We had two or three guys who were very good and could perform some pretty cool tricks for athletes who were not gymnasts or tumblers. The team I used to coach walked into the gym as we were on the trampoline and watched us but with little interest or concern. I knew that my former team was not as good as my present team on the trampoline and thought that we had showed them something. Well, my former team took the top 3 places and our best finisher was 22nd on race day.

What is the moral of my story? Focus on improving results in your sport and don’t get too excited or despondent if your athletes are (or are not) the biggest, fastest or strongest. With mature adults, don’t even worry about making the “best athlete”. The scoreboard is the only thing that counts on game day.