Back in 2008, I was working at a training centre and during a down time in the year we were told that the centre was going to be painted. Instead of taking a few days off the boss hunkered us all down to strategically plan. It was then that I was first asked, “what sport do you want to champion.” My response was simple, “I am not concerned with the sport as much as the process of athlete development.”
I was recently asked the same question. Again my response was simple, “I am not concerned with the sport as much as the process of athlete development.” Yet this time I was able to articulate my rationale. I went on to state, “My resume has quite a varied field of sports and athletic abilities associated with it. I take the approach that all participants or athletes have various aspects of performance and that performance fits a bandwidth. The challenge then is to identify the gaps in the performance and narrow the gap of where they are to where they need to be. It’s simple problem solving, and building a strategic plan to accomplish such a challenge.” I said that I hoped my response did not come across as egotistical but I find the beauty of performance in many events that could range from sports such as hockey, dance to free style ski. What will help to shrink the gap in performance.
As a Sport Physiologist, and spent a majority of my time assisting in the management of sport science services to organizations and coaches. I wore a number of hats; physiologist, the strength coach, and the educator for staff, coaches and athletes. When I was young, I had little understanding how all sport science aspects interacted, how they all fit, so I avoided it. Then as I got a few years under my belt, I began the “this is my hammer and every problem (gap) is a nail.” But if I learnt anything from Dr. David Smith, Rosie Neil, Dr. Matt Jordan or Scott Maw, it’s that addressing the gap is a puzzle, a 1000 piece puzzle with a bout 200 extra pieces that can fit in place of others. There are numerous solutions but I was also able to start to see the simplicity in the puzzles, and the puzzle will never be completed, it’s just finished enough to make out most of the picture.
In elite sport, it’s a pretty small sample size of athletes and support. I have always believed that working with elite sport is not difficult. You have great athletes, coaches and professionals, a strong support team where the individual participants can deliver their expertise, and just don’t blow the athletes up. It is more complicated than that, but that’s the Cole’s notes. What about at the grass roots? According to Statistics Canada over one in four Canadians (27%) aged 15 and older regularly participated in sports in 2016, with hockey (of course) topping the list. With a population of 37.9 million in Canada that is 29.59 million participants in sport after the age of 15 years. In comparison, the population of Canada is roughly equal to the population of California. This poses two thoughts.
- With the number of participants across all sports relatively small in the grand scheme of total population, how do we build better athletes at the bottom and allow them the opportunity to find success at their own determined level?
- With a number that large, how do you deliver service and education to the athletes that are in a sport organization?
The key is to help develop and educate the coaches. Bring the best support to the coaches and sport organization that is appropriate to their situation. That is where an experienced Sport Scientist comes in. That person should be collaborating with the coach, and not dictating; this is a relationship. This person should help the coach identify 1-2 key questions that need to be answered and that question has measurable impact on performance. Think SMART goals. And this person should be able to show the impact or change that the intervention has had for the team.
Sport as a Problem Solving Process
For most of the people in sport, there are a number of questions that require answering and it is a benefit to have the outside view to identify the key questions that can be or should be answered. This will require the gathering of information, where it is key to make observation about the sport and the athletes. When the necessary information is gathered, it is time to identify the solution. This step must be strategic, and may include a new stimulus or in some cases, require that stimulus is removed. Too many cooks in the kitchen ruin the soup. Here we can ask with the information gathered, what can be changed that will improve performance the most or what are the goals of your training program? Creating a plan must now take all the above factors into account to write a program that will achieve the identified goals
Implementing the plan, I think is one of the easier steps. This is the point that coaches all enjoy… the coaching. It feels like this is the calm before the storm. But we cannot forget to plan to assess the outcome. Ultimately assessment is competition and how much did performance improve, or not improve. However, this may also include sport science testing. The value in sport science testing is that this provides more control over the random influences of sport performance and can provide specific information about components of performance. Where this process can become confusing is when it is now applied to more than just the training environment.
The above steps can be an should be applied to all aspects of the training environment, as seen in the figure above. But that is a big undertaking to a coach, and as I have been told in the past, it is very overwhelming. Start simple and decide the biggest question you have, and reach out to your support network. There are great people out there willing to help. And the 2020 slogan phrase of “we are in this together” is applicable to the area of sport science as well.