4.     You are never ready

Over the years when talking to beginning coaches I often hear sayings similar to: “I just want to spend the next 2 years learning as much as I can and become a really good coach”. I disagree with such notion. With that sort of mindset, you will never be ready. If you want to feel confident as a coach, you have to COACH! Becoming an effective coach is not going to come by studying; it’s like learning to drive a car, you don’t study it, you learn road rules and you hit the road and DRIVE! Similarly, to be good at coaching you must actually practice the skill of coaching and over time you will feel confident and ready. However, just like driving if you are not familiar with rules of the road there will likely be significant consequences.

Conversely, I encourage young coaches to have the courage to pursue their careers aggressively and should an opportunity arise, don’t be afraid to take a swing and make the best out of any situation; play up and not down to challenges. Remember, pressure mold diamonds! Personally, my depth (or lack thereof) of experience and/or knowledge was never a concern when I was presented an opportunity in the professional sporting ranks because I knew I’ve done the best job I could to help my players getting better. Whether it be hitting the books, looking for advices or tips from more seasoned coaches, I did it, in every circumstances I exhausted the resources I have available to me so the feeling of under qualification was never a cause for my lost of sleep (though I did lose sleep over losing games and how to make my players better).

I have a mantra: do not let the magnitude of the task dictate your level of commitment, but your level of commitment will ultimately dictate the magnitude of the task. I really believe it and live by it. It doesn’t matter if I’m working with a 12 year old or somebody preparing for the Olympics, I will relentlessly scrutinize every possibility looking for the most effective solution for my athletes to overcome their obstacles and provide them the best opportunity to succeed.

At the end of the day, learning is a lifelong commitment anyway it doesn’t matter how many years you have been in the industry, continued education is a must. Honing a craft is not like a video game where there are discrete stages and you go from level 1 to level 2 and all of the sudden you’re a stud. Mastery is a seamless process that is an accumulation of your daily commitment. So get out there and don’t ever think you are underqualified for any task, just focus on making the best of any situation that you’re given. When in doubt, remind yourself Bill Gates didn’t even have a degree when he developed Windows software!


5.     Exercise is medicine

In response to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle characterized by modern living, American College of Sports medicine started a global initiative, Exercise is Medicine. Introduced under the premise that regular exercise habits can be the best cure for many preventative diseases, this initiative promotes the inclusion of physical activity examination and education as part of standard medical practices. As a practitioner in the field of exercise, health and fitness Exercise is Medicine may be a concept you may adopt quite literally as well.

In fact, while most of the industry speaks about General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) and how it applies to exercise prescription and subsequent adaptation but little attention has been given to the original research. A phenomenon discovered by Canadian physiologist Hanns Selye in the early 1930s GAS was actually a laboratory experiment based on ‘drugging’ rats! What am I trying to convey here? Exercise is in fact like medicine – high dosages kill!

Over my years in sports performance I’ve often observed coaches prescribing a rather absurdly high levels of intensity and/or volume to training for developmental athletes or those with little training experiences. This practice may very well be the results of coaches and/or young athletes replicating training regimen of elite athletes. In reality, irrespective of the training level of an athlete, overdosing in key variables pertaining to exercise form, intensity, and volume can be a dangerous act with severe consequences.

Following these considerations I view training program prescription no different to drug prescription in medical practices. Our job as sports performance coaches are to: (i) see the symptoms, (ii) identify the causes, (iii) find the remedy with the highest potency with smallest amount of adverse effects, and (iv) identify and prescribe the ‘minimum effective dose’. Think about it for a minute, if 1 tablet of paracetamol will cure your aches and pains, why take 2? If paracetamol will relieve your aches and pains the doctors would never prescribe opiates. Exercise prescription should follow this same logic. Over the years I have witnessed many cases of injuries due to poor load managements, in these instances the athlete’s training experiences were often insufficient for the method that was elected and they were pushed beyond their physiological limits.

Now comes the irony of all this, our job as sports performance coaches is to increase our athlete’s threshold so they can tolerate greater workload, this objective is in contrast to that of a medical doctor in drug prescriptions. As a result this is also why sports at the highest level where an organism is regularly pushed to and often beyond extremes of his physical capacity is actually not a healthy practice. For that matter the moment an individual decides to pursue a career in elite sports he needs to be prepared to sacrifice his physical well-being as an inevitable repercussion. For a more thorough understanding of the dosage-response relationship in exercise prescription I would urge young coaches to spend time learning GAS (fundamentals, HUH?!) at a greater depth and this will also help propel one’s understanding for more global planning, i.e. periodization.


6.     The art of movement

In the world of science based on numerical values i.e. angle, force, and time. What is often neglected is the expression of exercises and movements as a form of art. Movements must not be mechanical, in other words robotic, in fact elite performers of any sport are so graceful with their craft it’s beautiful to watch and I strongly believe complementary training (i.e. weights, speed training) should be the same. A coach I hold high regards for, Natalia Verkhoshansky, once described to me “drills should be performed effortlessly, your athletes should perform drills with joy and from an outsider’s view they should look like they’re dancing”. Her message was transformative for my coaching in that athletic movements and exercises should be viewed as an expression of an art form and not just a medium to improve upon a physical quality.

This is another reason why film study is important, by studying elite performances you will develop a coaching eye that appreciates the gracefulness of movements that is not measured with numerical values; for the science minds out there, you will begin to coach more ‘qualitatively’. The movements may not always line up quantitatively but a balance need to be met and athletes need to be coached to reveal the unique expressions of their movement and as coaches we need to appreciate the personality of how each athlete moves.

In this regard, upon mechanical (quantitative for the science-minded) mastery of movement coaches should emphasize on it’s rhythmical interpretation. It is within this framework when elite performances become candy to the eyes. In fact, if you were to play music in the background of elite performances you'll often find their movements synchronizing with hearts and beats of a song!

For coaches looking to qualitatively examine an athlete’s movement, this is when video analysis in the form of key-frame, snapshot images or even frame-by-frame analysis become insufficient. A true appreciation for athletic movement needs to be examined as a whole either in slow motion or normal speed playback where it will allow the movement to reveal itself and display the inherent fluidity.

Neal Wen

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