We are at the end of yet another year and here in St Vincent and the Grenadines one of the biggest problematic issues remains the fact that the vast majority of our nation’s trained coaches do not yet understand coaching.
The single biggest problem for the majority of our coaches is that of periodisation. Most do not understand the concept and as a result, cannot prepare appropriate programmes for the athlete sin their charge.
There is also the fallacy that athletes involved in team sports do not need periodisation. All athletes, regardless of sport, ned some form of periodisation.
There is also a failure on the part of our coaches to understand the importance of mental preparation in an athlete’s development. Perhaps too many of our coaches ignore this aspect to the peril of the athletes in their charge.
Unless our coaches get serious and engage themselves in continuing coaches’ education they will continue to short-change their athletes for decades to come.
Knowing the athlete
Many of our coaches spend little or no time getting to know the athletes with whom they work. This is the beginning of the problem. Knowledge of each athlete is of critical importance since the relationship going forward is dependent on it.
Each athlete has a history. The coach must know the athlete’s chronological age as well as the coaching/training age; the length of time he/she has been involved in some form of training as well as the type of training to which he/she has been exposed.
The athlete’s family, environmental, emotional/psychological and educational backgrounds, as well as the nutritional status and general health are also of particular importance.
Also critical is knowledge of any goals that have been set by the athlete, either independently or in tandem with an influential person, parent, physical educator. An athlete may, for example, have educational goals in addition to their love for, participation and success in sport.
The foregoing information gives the coach an indication of the level of maturity of the athlete and his/her predisposition, if any, for the training that is required.
It is unfortunate that many of our coaches fail to take time to establish a comprehensive profile of each athlete under his/her care. This pitfall is actually a grave disservice to the athlete. It is common to have coaches indicate that they have the athlete’s profile in their heads. Utter nonsense!
Coaches need to know as much as possible about each athlete in their charge and work together to facilitate optimal performance in the context of capacity and identified goals.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are several well-known shortcuts to success, some of which may lead to an early end to the athlete’s career.
Coaches often see and treat athletes as robots that must inevitably be only responsive to their dictates. Unfortunately, athletes are human beings with the capacity to think and engage in their own analyses of things to which they are exposed. They have a right to be heard and allowed to participate in any programme aimed at their preparation for success.
Periodisation is a systematic approach to the training of athletes during their athletic careers. It is an approach that engages the athlete and coach in a collaborative programme, a development pathway to the attainment of improved performances that are measurable, capable of detailed, critical analysis and change.
Many a coach has been responsible for the destruction of athletes in their failure to prepare an athlete-specific periodisation programme. Some have been guilty of operating more on assumptions and wishful thinking rather that the science of athlete preparation that is involved in periodisation.
Periodisation has distinct phases and this, regardless of the physical sport involved. The phases are: preparation, competition and transition.
The first phase in the periodisation programme is that of preparation. This phase has two components: general preparation and specific preparation. The preparation phase takes up between two-thirds and three quarters of an athlete’s annual programme.
General preparation is the phase during which the coach takes the athlete through the strength and endurance programmes that are so critical to the latter’s performance in the competitive phase. It is also the phase during which the athlete engages in mental preparation.
In general preparation the coach takes the athlete through a period of relatively low intensity activity gradually increasing this intensity as the athlete begins to show benefit from the programme.
In the specific preparation aspect of the preparation phase the coach carefully carries the athlete through the specific preparatory requirements of his/her event. What is required for the sprinter is different from that of the distance runner, horizontal/vertical jumper or thrower.
It is common that in the preparation phase the coach engages the athlete in understanding every exercise and its contribution to the ultimate goal. It is also important that as with every phase, the coach discusses the athlete’s balance of academic work with athletic training and development.
Parents are to be informed of the nature of the training and asked to monitor the impact it is having on the athlete’s general well-being and work around the home as well as in the classroom.
Care must be taken to ensure that the athlete does not over-train in the preparation phase.
Time must be taken to ensure that the principal needs of the rounded development of the athlete is carefully managed. This means that strength is balanced against endurance as against speed and the like.
The athlete must be taught to monitor and evaluate growth and development at all times in order to facilitate full engagement in the preparation process.
In the competitive phase the coach works with the athlete to ensure optimum performance in competitions.
The athlete is not a machine and so the coach works with the athlete to determine which competitions and which events in such competitions are ideal for the athlete. This is matched against the overall goals that have been set for the short, medium and long terms.
One would notice that in swimming much emphasis is placed on short age groups – two-year span – until after attaining the age of 15 years. In athletics, unfortunately, at the regional competition level the majority focuses on Under 17 and Under 20. However, at the international level, athletes can compete with all aged athletes after attaining their 16th birthday.
Coaches must also ensure the gradual development of each athlete based on continuous assessment of performances. Not every athlete gains stardom at an early age. Not everyone can win a world senior title in athletics before the age of 19. This may well however be the case in other sports that allow for early maturation and a shorter competition span like gymnastics.
Competition requires very careful preparation and each performance must be evaluated on its own merit.
Coaches must not lie to athletes to curry favour with them and their parents. All too often coaches have been guilty of convincing young athletes that they can get them to this or that competition over which they have no control. When those athletes fail to make established standards and do not gains election they join their coaches in maligning the selectors and administrators of the sport. It is often the case that long after the athletes have ceased to compete and they mature as adults, they confess to having left the sport early, more from their lack of understanding of all that took place around them.
Many athletes are not educated by their coaches. Instead, they are often led by their noses.
It is therefore not at all surprising that many of our coaches, not engaging in their own continuing coaches’ education, fail to encourage athletes to read on their sport and their events.
The transition phase is essentially a period of rest and recovery following the completion of the competition phase.
Athletes get tired. Competition takes much out of them. They need to rest and recover.
The transition phase does not mean absolutely movement away from exercising. Instead, it means a time for reflection on the year, evaluating performances, understanding where the athlete has reached in his/her athletic development/maturation/experience. It is also a time for easy exercises. Swimming and the occasional run would be ideal. Engagement in the practice of another sport without engaging in fierce competition could also be useful.
Coaches need to be mindful of the training programme concepts and use them wisely in preparing their athletes.
The macrocycle is the name given to the training programme that the coach prepares for the year in the life of the athlete. This is the overall programme that details where the athlete starts and where he/she ought to be at the end of the year.
The macrocycle is then broken down into mesocycles. This is the programme for a few weeks at a time (four to six week intervals). The coach determines what type of activities the athlete must engage in for the mesocycle as he/she moves along the preparation continuum.
The mesocycles are further broken down into microcycles. These are what the coach would work with the athlete during each week of a mesocycle.
The workout is what occurs on any particular day in a microcycle. The coach and the athlete perform activities that are considered appropriate to getting the athlete through any given week of the microcycle.
It is important to note that throughout the life of an athlete, the coaches must ensure that the athlete’s mental capacity for training and competition is developed.
It is unfortunate that as yet St Vincent and the Grenadines does not have a sport psychologist, all athletes, whether professional or otherwise, ought to have the support of a sport psychologist.
It is also imperative that athletes have the support of a sport nutritionist. What the athlete eats and drinks is particularly important.
Access to a physiotherapist or a chiropractor is also recommended.
Coaches must find ways of creating an important support team around each athlete and the athlete’s parents ought to be part of this institution. The latter must know what is happening with their child at all times.
Coaches must take the time to safeguard the children in their care.
The fact is that in today’s world, sport is a science.
Our coaches in St Vincent and the Grenadines must continue to educate themselves and implement and evaluate their own performances with the nation’s athletes.