This article is guest blogged by Lee Ness, a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics, and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association.
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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
This article could just as easily be called Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). I was privileged enough to join some outstanding coaches on the England Athletics National Coach Development Programme (NCDP) this weekend. Alongside all the great things I learned, and there was a lot, a very small thing jumped out which wasn’t specifically part of the education. It may be that I am so blind that it is obvious to everyone except me, or maybe just to really good coaches it is so natural that they don’t deal with it specifically. Either way, it really struck home and the reason is that I’ve been on Coaching Assistant training, Athletics Coach, Event Group Coach, the 2012 European Speed Conference and now the NCDP and it was mentioned every time, in passing!
So what is this epiphany that is only ever mentioned in passing or by anecdote, never trained as such and finally filtered through into my consciousness this week?
It is this: Do the minimum amount of training with your athletes that it takes to achieve your objectives.
One word, very important. The minimum amount.
Now, if you’re like me you will plan your training year to some level of detail, a rough cut of the sessions, the training cycle, whether it be complex, short to long, long to short or whatever. Most coaches will use meso- and macro-cycles in some form. Plan the objectives of the sessions. I know about how to schedule sessions to maximise recovery. I know how to plan the sessions to achieve the longer term training affects I want.
But then the next stage, that I’ve missed I think, at least consciously, is whether overall that is the minimum. We all know with sprint training there is a huge amount to squeeze in. Lots of training for micro-levels of improvements. Training all of the energy systems, improving lactic tolerance, increasing functional strength, force production, mobility, flexibility, acceleration mechanics, sprint mechanics, posture, speed endurance, special endurance, the list goes on and on. At a club setting, you have to somehow cram all of this in within the constraints you have, the availability of the track, the coaches, the facilities, the athletes, your own time. It is a work of great complexity to pull all this together.
Added to the “minimum amount’ comment I heard at the weekend were two other things in a short space of time from two elite coaches. The first was from James Hillier who mentioned that his training involves doing the simple things and the basics very well. The second was from Tony Hadley who said one of the objectives was to try and get an elite sprinter through three complete training cycles (three summer seasons and three winter seasons) injury free and that was where real improvement was gained.
Add all these things together and what do you get? A training programme that when looked at in that light is too much. I have looked at my training programme and is it the minimum I need to do? Not really, is the answer. I already do complex sessions, but I realised that I can improve them still further. Pare away the excesses. Be very clear on session objectives. Combine the energy system development by modifying my warm ups. Reduce the number of exercises in my homework sessions to a core few. Reduce the amount of work done overall, whether in the technical sessions or the other parts and replace it with quality. I’m going to work on the principle that the better my athletes are, the harder they will train and then the more likely they are to get injured. My coaching objective, overriding everything else this year, is to avoid that. Better to be undertrained than overtrained (someone once said).
It’s hard because there will always be the concern that the athlete isn’t getting all of what they need, but I suppose that’s where the more experienced coaches can rely on their confidence and greater knowledge to know that it works. Cut out any excess. Don’t do anything that doesn’t need to be done. Do the things you do very well. The minimum amount, simple stuff done well.
Maybe you have to go around the loop once to realise what is important. I’m going to learn from that this year. It isn’t quite that I trust myself yet, I will still fret and worry that I’m not achieving the training effect.
But I can see better now that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.
About Lee Ness
Lee Ness is a UKA qualified Event Group Coach for Sprints and Hurdles, the Head Coach/Sprint Coach at City of Salisbury Athletics and Running Club and Track and Field Team Manager for Wiltshire Athletics Association.
The book,The Sports Motivation Masterplan, is a support guide for athletes and parents, helping them with the role of mentor through their journey from young aspiring athlete, to elite performer.