Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Coaching Types Continued

The power of the internet and social media is incredible. The previous blog on coaching types has been read in many parts of the World and many of my former colleagues have asked me which type they are...the answer is simple, you know who you are, just have a laugh, think about what you can do to change (if you need/want to).

I have few more types to introduce, let's wrap this up and in the following articles I will cover something about building good working relationships in high performance sport (or surviving in a pool of sharks as sometimes it may feel like).

Here they are:

6. The Bully
The bully is a coaching type you can come across frequently. This type is very popular in team sports and combat sports (stereotyping...I know...). This type is loved by CEOs of team sports clubs and tends to get hired to replace another coach when the season is going badly. It is in fact popular belief with general managers and CEOs of sports club (should write something about them as well...) that when a team is not performing you need to hire a bully as many times the perception from the boardroom is that the athletes and staff are not "working hard enough". The bully comes in, shouts at everyone constantly and controls everything. The bully does not like freedom of expression nor alternative ideas. With the bully you execute and you have to be prepared to have a shouting match. With the bully heated discussions do not happen behind closed doors, they happen on the field, in front of anybody (that's why he/she is a bully!). The bully has a plan most of the times (in his head), and when shared with staff and players it is fixed. The bully does not grasp the concept of progressive overload (in fact, the word progressive does not belong to his/her vocabulary). The periodisation plan of the bully is affected by good and bad results. Bad results = massive increase in training volume and intensity, good results = constant high volume and intensity. 



8. The friend coach
The friend coach is the nice guy. The one that sometimes even when results are bad can't be fired because "he is such a nice guy". The nice guy reads a lot of psychology and sociology. The nice guy does not shout and will refer any sign of DOMS to the medical team for an MRI (just in case). The friend coach cares about the health of the athletes, their families, the staff and the fans. He/She wants to make sure everyone is happy. The friend coach likes questionnaires, psychological profiling and likes to talk. His/her training approach has solid pedagogical foundations. It's the Montessori approach to training in fact! The friend coach has a plan, but this is discussed with the athletes and staff. Everyone has a say and in the end nobody has a plan as most of the times the friend coach facilitates an anarchic system where everybody does whatever he/she likes to do when they like to do it. As a sports scientist supporting the friend coach you will need to be firm and organised (but this is a trait you need anyway for every other coach) as otherwise you will not get much done. New iterations of the friend coach these days contain "new age" elements. Sometimes in fact training sessions can be performed barefoot and with soft music in the background (have you ever tried to lift weights with Mozart's music blasted in the gym?). He/she can take you to a camping trip so you can all bond and/or perform a training session in weird/remote places. When a friend coach is sacked there are lots of tears and teams might need weeks of therapy to recover from the loss. This is very different from the sacking of a bully coach where teams celebrate the release with fireworks displays.



9. The Statistician
The Statistician loves his/her numbers. Very common coaching type in CGS (centimetres,grams or seconds) sports. The statistician knows how fast Usain Bolt run when he was 11 and has learnt mnemonically the World ranking in his and other events for the last 30 years. The statistician make s use of numbers and loves numbers. His/her training sessions are detailed. You will know how much, how many times, how fast/slow, with what cadence and sometimes you might have add-ons like breathing rate! The statistician will get your brain going, so make sure you learn all key times and bring a calculator as sometimes you may fall into the trap of believing the numbers to find out later that they were utterly wrong (sometimes!). The statistician also loves predicting performances. He/she is able to tell you fast somebody will run/swim/cycle just by knowing how many push ups/medicine ball throws the athlete performs together with his body mass, speed in specific distances and age. How does he/she do that? Easy! The statistician uses secret formulas which were developed in East Germany in the 50s and were obtained from another coach after winning a drinking competition in a Bar in Budapest or exchanged for a box of cigars before the Berlin wall came down. The formula has also been "improved" by the statistician coach over the years adding a k he/she developed which improves the precision of the predictions. If you think you can go on PubMed and look for the formula you are a fool. There is no trace. Your best bet is to head to Budapest and try to find the Bar. Support to the statistician is relatively easy if you know your numbers and you provide evidence based reports. However, if you don't know or understand statistics, you are better off considering a career in another industry as this one takes no prisoners.




10. The SAS coach
One of my favourites and loved by everyone with OCD. The SAS coach applies military techniques to coaching and managing staff. Your morning meetings will be at 07 hundred hours (0700 am) and will start with a briefing. Anybody arriving late to anything will have to do 20 push ups. The SAS coach has a plan, everything is planned to detail with exact times and list of activities. Meetings are sharp and run on strict agendas and end with a series of actions. Athletes and staff know their roles and responsibilities. There is no place for complacency, no compromise means no compromise. When SAS coach asks you to do something, he/she is not asking. It's an order. Training sessions are built on solid routines. Everything is built on solid routines. The SAS coach is not a bully, but he/she can be at times. Definitively more organised than any other type, however sometimes lacks empathy. So some staff or athletes may get the "hairdryer" treatment at times, but the SAS coach means well. He/she demands excellence (and most of the times obtains it!). Not everybody can work with the SAS coach. The main aspect is to be incredibly well organised, have good routines and deliver consistent excellence.



So, my list is finished. Joking aside, in order to work with various coaches in a sports science role you need to:

- Understand how the coaches work, what is their experience/background and what their philosophy
- Learn about their approach/take notes/ask questions/observe/measure where possible
- Reinforce all the positive, anything that works
- Discuss what does not work when you have evidence and not when their philosophy does not match yours
- Be organised, have good plans, gather (relevant) data to improve the quality of service you can provide to the coach/athlete unit
- Remember you are part of the support team, not the main actor, your place is behind the scenes
- No one is indispensable
- If you get a chance, get some coaching qualifications and try to coach somebody in any sport, you will find out that putting the human performance puzzle together is not as easy as running an incremental test in a lab
- If you think you know everything it is time for you to move on, working with athletes of any level/age allows you to discover something new every day if you ask the right questions (or assess routinely certain aspects) and critically appraise what you do
- Be prepared to have the difficult conversations (and many times you will be at the receiving end!)
- Never forget that when working with a team or an individual athlete everyone is trying to do the same thing (improving performance) but each member of the team might do it in a different way
- Never lose sight of the big picture




Saturday, 14 March 2015

Coaching types

In the last few weeks I have been reflecting a lot about the evolution of the coaching profession. When I started my career in Sport, I was more interested in coaching than sports science, later on I drifted to science, mainly because I am the kind of person mostly interested in evidence and numbers, in structures and processes and find difficult to get lost in philosophies and opinions which unfortunately still permeate part of the coaching community.

In my view, coaching is teaching. It is about making people better, and it is about "igniting" passion for something. Coaching is about facilitating the expression of talents as well as instilling a culture of hard and honest work and passion for the activity the athlete is doing.


So, when I was coaching, I aspired to be a great teacher, a great motivator, a man with a plan able to communicate clearly to my athletes what we were doing and why and I tried to measure and understand most of what I was doing in order to separate the good from the bad. In my view at the time, a great coach was also an excellent communicator, and was somebody able to facilitate creativity within a structure of play (I was a Handball coach after all). 

As a Strength and Conditioning coach I was clear about my role: I had to make my athletes stronger and faster and robust enough to endure training and competition. Over the years my career has taken different directions, from pure science to scientific support to managing holistic approaches to performance. In such roles I have met many coaches and practitioners with my daily interactions, but I also came across many individuals in coaching conferences, workshops and seminars and also on the Internet. I have to say that over the years I learnt to "box" coaches according to the way they work and would like to share this on my blog. This is not a critique to the people working in a coaching role, but is a tongue-in-cheek  blog which I hope it can be used for self reflection to understand where the coaching career is going and also be used as a guide for young sports scientists.


1. The multi-medal winner who is always right
This is challenging coach to work with. He/She has won everything there was to win, has been successful over the years and is grounded on his/her beliefs of what works and what does not work. In general, the multi medal winner is obsessed with (old) routines and thinks that his/her way is the ONLY way to improve performance and win. The only way to win his/her trust is learn about his work, collect evidence. Build and collect evidence and he/she will listen to you. With no evidence your philosophy and your beliefs count nothing. After all, he/she has won everything, not you, so why should the coach listen to you?



2. The motivator
The motivator gets incredible attention from staff and athletes. He/She can get anybody to climb mount Everest. He/She is capable of inspiring the most incredible performances. However most of the times he/she is completely disorganised. Cannot put together a structured plan with a sense, improvises and has no idea why certain things work and what does not work. If you work with a motivator coach you will always be in a great environment but unstructured and random. So what you will need as a sports scientist is organization and structure. The motivator suffers from ego-boosts periods when things go well and excessive rehearsals of Al Pacino's any given sunday speeches when things go pear shaped, so be ready for loads of pep talks and inspirational videos.




3. The Lecturer
This coach is going to lecture everybody, his/her athletes and hi/her staff. However, just like any university lecturer, few times athletes and staff will fall asleep...The lecturer coach is always prepared (to give a lecture) but most of the times what he lectures about is not what he/she coaches. He is too busy to put together cool quotes to self reflect and find out that what he thinks he/she is doing is not what is happening. Sports science support to a lecturer coach is challenging as it means many times falling into the trap of producing power point slides to get to your points. If you end up working with somebody like that, get ready for death by power point and numerous hours of meetings in which you will be lectured.


4. The pseudo-science guru
This one is fascinating. This is the guru. The one that also has sometimes cargo-cult science following. He/she is always right just like the first type, is a great motivator and a lecturer. Is the combination of all of the above. What makes this type more dangerous than others is that this coach reads stuff. Blogs, books, articles in Russian, philosophy theories, books nobody has read or can buy, and has a side interest in physics. This type comes up with new terms previously unknown to mankind and claims facts that were published in some obscure journals (or on the walls of a cave) which helped him/her develop the new theory of coaching. This one is lethal, because will challenge any sports scientists using collections of sciency words in random order and will confuse you so badly that at times you will think that what you learnt in your degrees was just a pile of nonsense. He/she has a following after all, and everyone wants to work with him/her. So if you question or refuse to accept the mumbo jumbo you will be quickly dismissed as an innominato, a non believer. Best way to work with this type? Get your facts right, ├╝ber right! Make sure you translate the mumbo jumbo in something meaningful and take your time to understand how he/she works. Sometimes great gifts are given in ugly packages, so you might learn something new if you listen but this happens rarely. Many times you will shake your head in disbelief and will have to challenge the non sense using scientific facts. Be prepared, as the pseudo-science guru does not like to be contradicted, so unless you are really really good and absolutely correct, you might lose your job before you know it. 

5. The Artist
The artist creates. He/She is never prepared. There is no structure, no plan, no thinking forward, no idea of what happened last week. Nothing, nada de nada. The Artist coach will surprise you with curve balls coming from everywhere. His/Her plans (which reside only in his/her head) will be always changed at the last minute. Whatever you agreed to do will have to change. So if you work with this type, better learn how to sail and read the wind, as the working journey with this type will take you to places you have never been before...This type should come with a warning if you have OCD and/or love structured plans.



... TO BE CONTINUED ...


Friday, 27 February 2015

New article published on strength training for the elderly


In 2013 I was kindly invited by my colleague Dr. Urs Granacher in Potsdam to give a talk to his institution about science in sport. During my stay we discussed about many aspects of sports science and spent a lot of time talking about bilateral deficit and the fact that there was not much research on assessing it in various populations and also on the effectiveness of various training interventions on this interesting neuromuscular phenomenon. In particular, I was concerned with the amount of training prescriptions characterised by exercises involving two limbs, while most movements are performed with one limb. Also, we discussed how this was relevant for the elderly, as the risk of falls is large for older people and falls occur normally when most of the weight is supported by one leg.
Discussions moved to actions, and the project has been now published on Plos One. The abstract is below and if you want to read the article you can click on the image.



    Abstract


    The term “bilateral deficit” (BLD) has been used to describe a reduction in performance during bilateral contractions when compared to the sum of identical unilateral contractions. In old age, maximal isometric force production (MIF) decreases and BLD increases indicating the need for training interventions to mitigate this impact in seniors. In a cross-sectional approach, we examined age-related differences in MIF and BLD in young (age: 20–30 years) and old adults (age: >65 years). In addition, a randomized-controlled trial was conducted to investigate training-specific effects of resistance vs. balance training on MIF and BLD of the leg extensors in old adults. Subjects were randomly assigned to resistance training (n = 19), balance training (n = 14), or a control group (n = 20). Bilateral heavy-resistance training for the lower extremities was performed for 13 weeks (3 × / week) at 80% of the one repetition maximum. Balance training was conducted using predominately unilateral exercises on wobble boards, soft mats, and uneven surfaces for the same duration. Pre- and post-tests included uni- and bilateral measurements of maximal isometric leg extension force. At baseline, young subjects outperformed older adults in uni- and bilateral MIF (all p < .001; d = 2.61–3.37) and in measures of BLD (p < .001; d = 2.04). We also found significant increases in uni- and bilateral MIF after resistance training (all p < .001, d = 1.8-5.7) and balance training (all p < .05, d = 1.3-3.2). In addition, BLD decreased following resistance (p < .001, d = 3.4) and balance training (p < .001, d = 2.6). It can be concluded that both training regimens resulted in increased MIF and decreased BLD of the leg extensors (HRT-group more than BAL-group), almost reaching the levels of young adults.

    Handball talk in Aspetar

    Here is the talk I gave to Aspetar hospital before the Handball World Championships in Doha. I gave a general overview about Handball performance and sports science and medicine aspects relevant for practitioners.



    Friday, 28 November 2014

    Ischemic Preconditioning Paper

    This paper was the result of an excellent collaboration with Professor Derek Yellon and his team at the Hatter Institute in University College London. We looked at different "doses" of ischemic preconditioning to understand better how to apply this conditioning intervention. The results are quite interesting and I hope this paper will be helpful for individuals designing RIPC interventions in various populations.

    The abstract is below and the article can be downloaded here

     2014 Nov 20;2(11). pii: e12200. Print 2014 Nov 1.

    Characterization of acute ischemia-related physiological responses associated with remote ischemic preconditioning: a randomized controlled, crossover human study.

    Abstract

    Remote Ischemic Preconditioning (RIPC) is emerging as a new noninvasive intervention that has the potential to protect a number of organs against ischemia-reperfusion (IR) injury. The standard protocols normally used to deliver RIPC involve a number of cycles of inflation of a blood pressure (BP) cuff on the arm and/or leg to an inflation pressure of 200 mmHg followed by cuff deflation for a short period of time. There is little evidence to support what limb (upper or lower) or cuff inflation pressures are most effective to deliver this intervention without causing undue discomfort/pain in nonanesthetized humans. In this preliminary study, a dose-response assessment was performed using a range of cuff inflation pressures (140, 160, and 180 mmHg) to induce limb ischemia in upper and lower limbs. Physiological changes in the occluded limb and any pain/discomfort associated with RIPC with each cuff inflation pressure were determined. Results showed that ischemia can be induced in the upper limb at much lower cuff inflation pressures compared with the standard 200 mmHg pressure generally used for RIPC, provided the cuff inflation pressure is ~30 mmHg higher than the resting systolic BP. In the lower limb, a higher inflation pressure, (~55 mmHg > resting systolic BP), is required to induce ischemia. Cyclical changes in capillary blood O2, CO2, and lactate levels during the RIPC stimulus were observed. RIPC at higher cuff inflation pressures of 160 and 180 mmHg was better tolerated in the upper limb. In summary, limb ischemia for RIPC can be more easily induced at lower pressures and is much better tolerated in the upper limb in young healthy individuals. However, whether benefits of RIPC can also be derived with protocols delivered to the upper limb using lower cuff inflation pressures and with lesser discomfort compared to the lower limb, remains to be investigated.
    © 2014 The Authors. Physiological Reports published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of the American Physiological Society and The Physiological Society.

    KEYWORDS: 

    Characterization; cuff inflation pressure; remote ischemic preconditioning; tolerability

    Finally, here is a picture of myself being a guinea pig for the pilot work (which I have done for almost all studies I published). If you are a young sports scientists running experiments, you should always experience what you will be asking your volunteers to do for you and for science. It will make your methods better but most of all you will make sure that your volunteers are well looked after.




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