The number one priority of any coach or trainer should be the health of your athletes. At GP, we look at any and all entities that should be addressed to increase the wellness of each of our athletes. This takes into account biomechanical/movement quality considerations, exposure to inappropriate training, the compatibility of current training loads and parameters, nutritional considerations, and the coordination of therapy and restoration techniques.
The process of developing athletes and ensuring they remain healthy in the process can present a major problem and one that could be remedied with both higher coaching education standards and the utilization of performance-based therapy.
1. Raising Coaching Education and Qualification Standards
To ensure the health of our athletes while realizing their athletic potential, we spend countless hours on improving movement efficiency as well as balancing workload compatibility during each training session and block. Statistics consistently demonstrate the more mechanically efficient you are, the less injuries you have. Movement efficiency also translates into athletes having higher levels of performance while expending less energy in the process. Expending less energy means less fatigue. This is important since athletes are more likely to get injured in a fatigued state.
Workload compatibility refers to the importance of understanding compatible training methods when addressing a dominant physical ability during a phase of training. For example, this demands that the coach/trainer understand if they are trying to develop alactic sprint abilities why glycolytic or anaerobic-lactic training must be restricted or avoided.
In the attempt to improve any number of physical abilities, most coaches/trainers often fall into the trap of pushing their athletes too hard in training. They understand that in order for athletes to perform any number of biomotor abilities (speed, strength, work capacity) at higher levels, they must push them during training to create a specific adaptation. In the process of achieving adaptation, often times they manipulate variables (intensity, frequency, duration, workload, etc.) without any understanding as to why they are making the change.
As a result they compromise the athlete’s ability to adapt appropriately and set the stage for injury.
Simply put, more educated coaches understand workload compatibility and the development of specific biomotor abilities as they relate to an athlete’s sport. They have a system of checks and balances that dictate training variables and they are constantly monitoring their athletes to avoid declines in performance standards and injury.
Movement efficiency and the proper management of training loads/parameters is a relatively poorly understood concept by the majority of trainers/coaches when most of them have simply taken weekend certification courses and are under qualified, with no background in sport and exercise science. This is far too common in the US, as trainers with minimal experience and knowledge of these concepts as they relate to sport often find themselves responsible for the coaching and development of athletes.
This approach is in stark contrast to the coaching qualification process in the former Soviet Union, where the development of coaches/trainers was a scientific and well-planned undertaking. Those who wished to become coaches had to be high-level competitive athletes themselves and were required to take entrance exams in subjects such as biochemistry, physics, biology, and physiology. The applicants who made the cut were entered into one of the country’s Physical Culture Institutes to undergo four to five years of a rigorous, scientifically oriented coaching curriculum. Coaching in the former Soviet Union was not something one decided to do a “whim”. Coaching and the development of athletes was viewed as a career that required specialized education, mentorship, and training.
It doesn’t take long to realize why the Soviet Union dominated international athletic competition for as long as they did once you understand the qualification criteria for their coaches was a serious and intellectual process.
Athletes should seek out coaches and therapists who have the competitive sporting background and accomplishments, educational background and accomplishments, as well as clinical competence, methods, and track record to keep athletes healthy and performing at their best. Period. Anything less, and you should be skeptical about what you are getting.
2. Integration of Performance-Based Therapy
In addition to raising coaching education and qualification standards, excellence in therapy is another component that is often missing when it comes to keeping athletes healthy.
Unless you have integrated sports medicine and therapy (sports chiropractic, massage, manual therapies, recovery methods), eventually an athlete will need to reduce the overall volume/intensity/frequency of training. What you are able to learn about an athlete in a therapy session is invaluable and can serve to help guide what you do in training.
As Dan Pfaff said best,
“A top athlete is like a formula one car and have you seen how much fine tuning they do with those things? The ability to run your hands over an athlete and know what is restricted gives you immense inside information into their functioning. You cannot expect the athlete to tell you either because they are terrible barometers when it comes to knowing what they are ready for. Just asking “are you ok for today’s workout?” is not enough because their motivation is so high athletes do not necessarily listen to what their own body is telling them.”
Therapy serves to normalize joint and soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament) function and promote movement efficiency by removing dysfunctional movement patterns. Similar to training, therapy cannot be randomly applied. Random application always equals random results. Therapy must be strategically implemented during the training plan. It should not be ignored that therapy provides a stimulus/stress to both tissues and the nervous system and, depending upon the athlete’s needs, must be utilized appropriately.
For instance, some forms of therapy can serve to promote recovery and restoration by pushing an athlete into a parasympathetic dominant state. Conversely, other forms of therapy can up-regulate the sympathetic nervous system and will either heighten performance levels or prolong the recovery/regeneration period depending upon when therapy is applied. Another factor that must be consider is how each individual athlete responds to therapy. Some athletes may respond to intensive therapy sessions just as they do to intensive training and therefore proper rest/recovery must be accounted for accordingly during the training week.
Both higher coaching education/qualification standards and performance-based therapy are necessary components in the health and performance of athletes. The more coaches know, the better they are able to serve their athletes and address their needs appropriately. Failure to integrate performance therapy in a complementary manner can be a mistake, as there tends to be an increase in reliance on other forms of therapy that stress rehabilitation and recovery rather than optimizing performance.
What is Performance Therapy?
Have You Mastered Your Movement?