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Journey 11 – The Art and Science of Coaching: Total Athlete Management

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ETPA Journey

Coaching is, or should be, much more than just writing a program advising athletes to swim, ride and run. It requires the ability to manage many roles that thereby enable you to provide a full service coaching experience. In order to successfully coach and manage each individual athlete a coach will be responsible, at least in part, for each of the following roles; or have avenues available to athletes to address each of them. 

These roles may include:

Programmer – This involves scheduling each athletes training load week by week. Programming should be specific to the individual based on numerous factors, including age, abilities, training age, goals, strength/weaknesses and availabilities. Program layout should allow adequate training load across each disciplines as well as appropriate times to recover; and offer specific direction as to intensity and duration of each session. Group sessions may also be scheduled for athletes of similar ability or with similar goals. Programming can also be presented in many ways; week by week, monthly or six week blocks, for example. The AIS works in six week blocks with their athletes, but that doesn’t mean a program should just be sent through every six weeks – there must be flexibility for alternations as the need arises. Modern technology means that the most efficient means of program delivery is electronically but again it would be suggested that this electronic transaction be accompanied by some verbal or other communication in an attempt to personalise the coaching experience for each athlete.

Sports Medicine Practitioner – Coaches must be able to manage an athlete’s general health and well being, and effectively manage injury history and preventative treatments. A musculoskeletal screening may also be included in this initial process. Such a screening helps the coach identify and stay on top of any injuries, muscular imbalances, flexibility/inflexibilities or other issues. The screening process should continue to include; social, medical, injury, limitations, family, work, goals and history. Such approaches will allow the coach to assess where each athlete is starting from, as well as where they want to go!

Injury management and prevention – This includes management of volume, intensity and recovery but also requires attention detail in terms of bike fit and technique analysis to allow optimal physical condition and performance. Furthermore, it is also the role of the coach to educate each athlete on effective measures of injury avoidance and recovery techniques such as warm up and cool down, stretching, hydrotherapy and sleep.

Strength and conditioning Coach – This involves the inclusion of preventative treatment strategies, strength training and core conditioning sessions – all of which allow optimal condition for the athletes swim, bike, run sessions.

Planner – Planning should be prepared as well as flexible and have an underlying focus on the long term development of the athlete. This not only involves planning each athlete’s individual season, as discussed in issue 9, but involves the organisation of each training phase, each training week and even each training session. Careful and appropriate planning of training load, macro, meso and micro-cycles and recovery periods (see issue 9) ensures each athlete can safely progress through each season as they work towards certain events and goals. A coach should teach patience, persistence and consistency to allow each individual to learn from their experiences, gather knowledge and thus, develop their own tools and beliefs.
 
Planning for performance - Planning can be done by starting from the end/race date and working backwards. This will include determining what dates/events will affect the campaign. The race course should also be considered, including the expected conditions, terrain, road surface, altitude and location. Then training should be structured accordingly. In terms of long term athlete development, it is important to consider that the AIS use 5 year plans for their athletes, it is known that 10 or more years in a sport will generally produce best results and most people reach their athletic peak in their mid-late thirties. As a coach you must be aware of such details and how they affect each individual. It is also important to strive towards providing all athletes with the resource expected by professional athletes, but equally important to remember they are not. Remember, each athlete should feel special and be provided with the necessary tools to decrease and manage any fear of failure or anxiety about their performance.

Sports Scientist – Monitoring physiological changes effectively is a way to ensure athletes are recovery between session and improving over time. Coaches fulfilling their role as a sports scientist may organise testing or monitor HR or power data regularly.

Nutritionist – Coaches should inform their athletes on issues such as; everyday diet, managing nutritional intake around training, including pre-training intake and post training intake, and, race day nutrition. Such information should include sources of required nutrients, appropriate sports nutrition, information regarding CHO loading, recovery nutrition and fuelling the body during the event for optimal performance. This may also include knowledge (or access to knowledge) regarding overweight/underweight athletes or athletes with eating disorders. Coaches should encourage healthy lifestyle choices, rather than extremes.

Mentor and Counsellor – Each athlete should be able to approach their coach for advice and support regardless of their training and racing outcomes. A coach should possess the tools provide such advice and support to their athletes when and where necessary. They should also be able to determine if and when this support is necessary and know that each athlete will handle their training load, racing performance and success/failures very individually. This will also include emotional management of injuries and setbacks. Generally, a good coach will be a great communicator.

Manager – In a sport like triathlon, one’s coach will often act as a manger. This includes seeing the whole picture and the effect of other issues, roles and requirements on the ability of each individual to be a ‘triathlete.’ Coaches should be considerate of an athlete’s family, career, partner, rest and recovery time and psychological wellbeing. This is often very significant in age group athletes. The coach will take a more traditional managerial role when dealing professional athletes, but there is some overlap in age groupers, when a coach may also deal with sponsorship opportunities, racing requirements, and other necessities.

Networking – It is also the role of the coach to assist the athlete in networking. This may include helping athletes to source of appropriate and recommended equipment, training venues, and training partners.

All coaches should build a network of assistance and care to support them in providing a full service to each and every athlete. This may include physios, sports scientists, equipment providers, training venues, specialist coaches, bike mechanics, administrators and nutritionists. A coach will act as the program manager who oversees the overall program and touches each aspect of this program at a basic level but the inclusion of specialist providers will allow the coach more time to go into season planning, preparing sessions, writing programs, interacting with athletes etc – ‘traditional’ roles of a coach.

The coach-athlete relationship is very unique and one that begins from the very first conversation. Coaches have great influence on an athlete. The relationship between athlete and coach is constantly evolving and you have to be FLEXIBLE & ADAPTABLE to deal with the variables each individual will present you with. A thorough screening process is due diligence for every coach. It should allow the athlete to explain their athletic history and previous personal bests; past and present injuries; work/holiday/family/study scheduling; and allow them to start thinking about their own assessments of strengths and weaknesses; long and short term goals; process goals; and proposed event schedule. The process should also include some sort of consent, usually in the form of a PAR-Q.

 

Managing coaching input…

There are times when coaches are required and expected to be intensively active in their coaching role, such as the 8-12 weeks leading into an event. This is not sustainable for all athletes for the whole year, just like heavy training loads are not sustainable for the athlete. It is therefore important to periodise coaching input. This helps coaches manage a large number of athletes on different programs. Some periods will allow some distance between coach and athlete some will require monitoring only, and some, will need intensive input including contact, care calls and extreme detail in programming and delivery.

The coach develops an expectation for each athlete, an expectation that predicts the level and type of behaviour which that athlete will exhibit. The coaches’ expectations influence his or her treatment of the individual athletes. The coaches’ behaviour towards each athlete differs according to the coaches’ belief. The way in which the coach treats each athlete affects the athlete’s performance and rate of learning. In addition, coaches should be aware of the perceptions of athletes. The athlete’s behaviour and performance conforms to the coach’s expectations. This behaviour conformity reinforces the coach’s original expectations.

Welcoming an athlete to the squad or coaching organisation and outlining some things they will need to do to help maximise their experience is another way to help an athlete not only get used to listening to advice from coach, but it also forms some of the coaches initial expectations of the athlete. Hence, it is clear what the coach expects of the athlete and listening to him/her will become second nature.

 

Acknowledgements
ETPA Coaching team: Mat Tippett, Jamie Edwards, Darren Franken
Miles Browning, Sram Racing Team, managing the total athlete
Triathlon Australia, NCAS Level 1 Triathlon Coaching Course Unit 9 –Planning & Programming for Triathlon

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