Thursday, 17 July 2014

Knowledge Bombs


                I may be off base on this one, but the term “knowledge bomb” in the coaching industry is starting to get old for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I have an unquenchable thirst for increasing my knowledge as much as the next coach but at what point are young coaches actually increasing their  knowledge as opposed to being good at trivia? 

                Coaching is a skill that requires the ability to balance many factors and one of the foundations of those factors is your ability to progress and regress both movements and your programs.  We start teaching our athletes a base skill and make a decision as to how to make it more or less challenging based on the needs of that athlete or group.  As an example, when I first started coaching I had the belief that all athletes should be able to execute a hang clean, back and or front squats, RDL’s, as well as a myriad of bodyweight exercises without really knowing “why” and they had to do it right now.  I still have this belief, but how I get the athletes to execute these movements has changed and I fully understand “why” they are important.  Essentially, I learned from both my mistakes and the mistakes of others along the way and am of the understanding that maybe it’s not those exercises that make a better athlete but the movement mechanics and physiological benefits behind them.  Holding tension, changing elevation, hip hinging, accelerating/decelerating and being able to functionally move one’s bodyweight in space are now at the forefront of my coaching as opposed to being set in the exercises above (even though those movements hold all of those components).  So instead of “knowledge bombs” as to how we program and do these movements why not shift the focus to “why” so that those that like to tweet how much knowledge they have from listening to a speaker actually have to think?  The more we think about movement versus thinking about what movement is best the more we will understand how to progress and regress.  I think it is very clear that all of our athletes should qualify to do any movement. The idea of doing the basics and doing them well before we worry about their ability to do one or a specific group of exercises should be paramount in our learning how to coach.

                I work with many young coaches within our two facilities as well as take on 10-15 interns each year.  I am writing this for them and anyone else that may listen to a different approach to learning how to coach as opposed to just listening to professional speakers.  I know this may come across as harsh, but for those of you that are new to the industry you may not believe this, but ten years ago there was not an option to attend 50 clinics a year in your city.  It is clear that as any industry grows, we will want to learn from those that have had success in it and I don’t want to make this sound like you shouldn’t attend courses and learn from others.  What I do want is for you to start looking at the information in a different light.  If you predominantly work with the general population and have the odd young athlete and go to a clinic that’s main focus are elite athletes you best have the ability to pick out what you can use for this population as opposed to forcing your general population clients into doing what the top athletes in the world are doing. I know this sounds stupid, but if I didn’t see this happen on a regular basis I wouldn’t have much to rant about. 

                I have gone off on clinics and why I won’t be attending many anymore in the past so I will keep this brief.  There are two concepts I want you to think about as you gain “knowledge bombs” each time you go to a clinic.  The first is indoctrination.  Is the presenter teaching you a theory or practice in a manner that makes it seem like you are foolish if you are not already doing it?  Is there something they are marketing or supporting because it is their own or a friend’s product? If you are not sure, take a look on twitter or any social media and you will see the network of people whoring out products and pumping each other’s tires.  The longer I am in the industry the more I see this spilling over into our athletes.  They have come accustomed to the idea that they have to do something or they won’t ever achieve the highest level of their sport.  If you don’t believe me, check out some of the training of your sport hero’s.  Actually I will save you some time, you will see hall of famers doing some crazy stuff, some doing things that align with your thinking and some will be somewhere in the middle.  What do they all have in common if they all did something different?  They are still hall of famers even though they all had different methods that helped them get there even though their training systems all differed.  If you are not picking up what I am putting down here I will make it very clear.  We can all get results with most of our athletes, but there is no set program that will get the same results with all of your athletes (even if someone is trying to convince you otherwise).  When a pro athlete or coach tells you how important a system is that isn’t based on individualizing programs I hope you start asking “why” instead of blindly following this method.  The second is cognitive inertia, which is basically the unwillingness to change thought patterns in light of new circumstances.  We get so set in our ways or traditions that quite often we neglect or forget the importance of critical thinking. 

Within our staff of 30 people I am probably the least likely to become a rocket surgeon.  And to be honest, I like it this way. I have a brilliant group of people I get to work with, learn from, challenge and be challenged by every day.  I also have a group of friends that I talk to about sport daily and to bounce ideas off.  The two concepts above came from two very different conversations.  The first was a conversation with Mark Uyeyama who is the head strength and conditioning coach for the San Francisco 49ers.  We were talking about how people get set in their ways and he told me about 3 hall of fame receivers that all did different training methods.  The second concept came from speaking with Curry Hitchborn who is the head forwards coach for the UBC rugby team.  This conversation had nothing to do with strength and conditioning and everything to do with the culture of sport in Canada.  Both concepts lead me to think about different things within the industry and the beauty of both was they weren’t in a clinic and they were free.  If I can offer one piece of advice when it comes to “knowledge bombs” it is go out and talk to people in related fields so that when you do go to clinics you can start to see what is practical and what is a sales pitch. 

                If you want to learn more about your industry the real “knowledge bombs” are the ones that make you question and grow what you already know and encourage you to learn more about what you don’t.  My thirst will never be quenched.

Yours in Strength,

Joe McCullum

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