The Problem with Emotional Training & Coaching
Watching neighbourhood runners is one of my favourite things to do. If only because it’s entertaining albeit at times frustrating. The other day I witnessed an amateur but well meaning attempt at coaching that prompted this write up. Chances are you’ve been there, seen this and know what I’m talking about.
Picture this – a somewhat lanky teen without any muscle definition (I’m talking about an obvious sedentary lifestyle, no muscle mass and a tiny bit on heavy side) being forced to shuffle down the street. Head a bit thrown back, chin too up, awkwardly placed arms, elbows slightly bent, wrists slightly bent, hands placed strangely out and kept at hip level. Expression of suffering firmly imprinted on his face but with a strange hint of pride. An adult walking/jogging next to him providing lots of what seemed like instructions. There was a lot of quiet yelling. Based on my observations there was zero instruction on running technique.
It was as comical as it was embarrassing and painful to watch. It was one of those random moments when you want to run up to someone pleading: “May I help you?! Please?!!”
To Be Emotional vs To Be Helpful
As I ran past them I could hear the man instructing the teen: “Keep going! You can do it! Next time we’ll go a bit longer and a bit faster! Yeah buddy that’s how we gon’ get it!” Sounds very inspiring and moving. However, not very helpful and a bit backwards. That boy had no business running at all, to say the least about the distance and that speed. His form looked awful because his technique was nonexistent. That is a straight road to injury hell.
Emotions are powerful, they can help you do things you never thought you could. Everyone has heard the incredible stories of people doing something mindblowing…. one time and because their life or someone else’s life depended on it. Sports is not life and death. It shouldn’t be. Athletic pursuit of excellence is about striving to achieve the height of physical abilities while displaying those abilities in graceful, impressive manner. Emotions play a very important role in this but only at that one important moment in time and space when you must put it all on the line and give it all you got – during a game, a match, a race etc. Leading up to that, however, is or should be a well paced, very well calculated and executed plan of training sans emotions. You develop a plan and you go after your goal very methodically and unemotionally.
“Keep going! Pull your feet! Maintain your running pose! Ok, let’s switch to drills for a while. ” Now that type of commentary would have been helpful.
Reality vs Movies
It’s very entertaining and moving to watch the emotional approach in movies. Coach screaming, everyone crying and the athlete achieving the impossible during training so he or she could have the breakthrough and realize his or hers full potential. The problem with that is you can only do this so much, after a certain point it becomes a very simple emotional and physical abuse.
Ask any professional athlete or a performer and they will tell you in a flash that in order to even get to a certain level of public visibility or notoriety for their abilities they spent countless hours perfecting their skill and developing their talent. Drilling and working out the kinks of their technique is what they do. Their coaches start training sessions with basics and spend countless hours first building then maintaining their foundation. They go OCD to improve their movement, their technique. And only then do they venture out further and for longer.
But – let’s not forget the countless others that never made it past middle or high school sports and faded away broken and injured without ever having a chance of developing their abilities to fulfil their potential. Those others that had a well-meaning parent doubling as a coach or a coach with little knowledge of biomechanics, training process or sports technique.
To Inspire vs To Instruct
My thoughts that day were: “Before you tell him he can do it why don’t you do everyone a favour and tell him what to do and how to do it.” Many can support, some can inspire, very few can instruct. This has to change otherwise we’re going to continue the cycle of injuries and can forget about seeing new marathon or sprint world records in this century. I’ve seen just enough young and already damaged ankles, knees etc to allow myself to be a bit dramatic here.
Inspiring someone to do something incredible and astonishing and captivating is awesome and goes a long way, but for how many? One, maybe a few? What about others? Others that could excel and exceed everyone’s expectations, and even their own, with just a little bit of simple instruction on technique, a bit of strength training to help develop that technique further and then some inspirational speeches to keep them moving.
It’s very simple to tell the difference between an inspirational monologue and technical instruction – emotionally telling someone to “run as hard as you can or put your heart into it” is not the same as instructing to “increase your angle of falling, stay in pose, pull faster”. The former makes you clench your fists and push really hard hoping to produce the desired result, while the latter tells you precisely what needs to be done and how to do it in order to achieve the desired result all the while sidestepping the injuries. Most of injuries are strictly technique & training related. It’s not about overuse it’s about incorrect use and incorrect load, but a regular person wouldn’t know that because that information is simply outside of their scope.
Experience & Passion Are Not Enough
They are valuable indeed but simply not enough. It is a coach’s responsibility to go ahead and educate himself or herself. Imagine if everyone else decided to just do what they do without getting any education. Doctors? Nurses? Engineers? Teachers? If you want to teach you have to learn first. A coach is essentially a teacher. If you want to coach – experience alone is not enough, being a parent is not the right foundation for this endeavour. Not everyone can or should coach but anyone looking to coach can significantly improve their coaching skill by getting that specific education and/or attending educational seminars geared towards health and fitness professionals.
Education is paramount. Education in sports is paramount. Considering that we’re talking about staying healthy and unbroken – education in coaching community should be as paramount as it gets. After all, no amount of money can currently buy you a second body (let’s not kid ourselves with those artificial replacements) and it is a bit ridiculous to be concerned with staying motivated or hydrated while breaking your knee caps.
Understanding and correcting running technique and training is part of the Pose Method Certification Course. Designed for health and fitness professionals, it is also a great starting point for anyone looking to become a coach. This seminar offers 16 CE hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists.