Coaching semantics and the misconception of the one true path

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As many of you know it’s not like me to be opinionated or controversial, but I thought I’d kick off the new blog with this one.

It’s a subject that comes up time and again regarding various methods of coaching, ideas, and just what really is the best way to achieve results.

There are a number of examples that spring to mind, the Double knee bend, a favourite bone of contention amongst many sports scientists, driving up on to the toes (finishing the triple extension) and actively using this technique to lift, argued amongst weightlifting coaches…. The list does go on; but what are coaches really actually arguing about?

Almost every coach I’ve spoken to over the last decade has agreed that both the movements I used as an example above do happen, the problem comes in do you actively teach this? Are they actions to be performed, or are they reactions which happen automatically?

This is where that grey area tends to appear, and tempers tend to disappear.

I’m going to give you my coaching methodology now to save you reading on while guessing; I personally relate all my coaching back to the end user… the athlete/client.

If the athlete needs something explained or corrections made, I do it. If they don’t, I don’t. As a weightlifting coach, who’s been practicing, performing and competing in the Olympic movements for almost 15 years, these are the movements I coach most often. They are complicated, intricate and there is a hell of a lot involved in getting the movements right.

So one of the idioms I use most often when teaching new coaches, is – “do you as a coach need to know everything there is to know about the lifts?” – I personally believe coaches do, but my follow up question “ok, does your athlete?” usually gets the same response every time, the simple answer is no, there’s enough to think about, and even the action of thinking through a lift inevitably makes performing it harder.

Focusing on one, sometimes two key areas or technical aspects is plenty, any more than that and you’re asking for things to go wrong.

So what do we teach? – my answer, only what’s needed at that time, anyone can get a good grounding in the movements with drills and technique bars/brush handles provided they have the proper mobility and stability.

This brings me to the core of the article… the misconception of the one true path

This idea seems to go unnoticed, glossed over and altogether undervalued as a core principle governing a coaches’ willingness to be open, learn and improve their skills.

The idea being as Liam Moggan summed up so eloquently…. Who says there’s only one right answer?

This small nugget of truth in an absolute quagmire of knowledge, learning and teaching shone above all else. The simplicity of it struck me… Why are we arguing over whether to introduce movements we all agree happen or not, when what we could be looking at is… when is it time to introduce these movements, if ever?

There are so many different body shapes, sizes, motor skill levels, areas of stability, tightness and weakness that teaching one set method would never logically work for everyone.  There will always be those who benefit, and those who would benefit more from a different approach.

The statement is so small in structure, but so far reaching in nature, it’s one of those Zen moments, the answer to a question I didn’t know my subconscious was asking, but yet there it was right in front of me.

It was never that one coach was right, and another was wrong; it was simply that both ideas are correct, it’s the one size fits all application that made the ideas incompatible. When you find an athlete that the coaching method works for, the idea is perfect, when it doesn’t fit, then it’s not the idea that’s incorrect, it’s not adapting your coaching to suit your athlete that’s the problem.

The same can be said for the ideas of coaching the top down method, the bottom up method, whole part whole (compartmentalisation) and so on. The methods are all sound, they work…. But only for those athletes that need that particular method to progress. The method is a tool, it’s the skilled coach who can wield more than one at any given time.

Ask a plumber to fix a broken pipe with only a hacksaw and they may do it, but give them all the tools and parts at their disposal, not only will it get done quicker, but it’ll probably be a much better job as well.

Being a coach is an art form, getting the best tools is what a good coach does, and knowledge is one hell of a tool when in the right hands.

So in looking at the how’s and why’s of coaching; talking about movement skills or even something much bigger or more profound, taking each and every athlete as the unique individual they are, not trying to apply the one size fits all scenario to them to me seems not only logical, but simple, effective, and quite possibly the only way of getting the results that each individual wants.

It’s not that [in this case] there are better ways of teaching, just that some athletes learn better one way, others another. It is the coach who is willing to stretch their own capabilities, push their own teaching boundaries and get out of their comfort zone who will have the most successful athletes. Ask yourself, what does my athlete need, not what was I taught, so I’ll use that.

The more tools you have at your disposal, the more teaching methods, skills and personal attributes you can call on, will mean that you arrive at the answer that’s best for your client or athlete, whatever answer that may be for them.

… there may also be more than one successful way of achieving it; the more I’ve looked, the more I’ve realised; there is no one true path, there are many. They cross, intertwine, some are quicker, some dead ends even help you find the route you were looking for, but it’s never a straight road, and there’s always another path if you get lost.

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