What makes a good coach? – The Irish Times
What makes a good coach?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, given my own training plans lately, and also given all the talk about this, especially in athletics.
It’s not just about what makes a good coach, but about good coach support and a central system or pathway that athletes can tap into, which also allows coaches to feel appreciated and supported.
This makes you wonder where to start when it comes to creating a coaching registry and ensuring athletes have access to the right ones? Navigation can be an intimidating environment and it shouldn’t be that way.
I see it sometimes where the coach has all the power and control of training and race planning, when it should be a two-way conversation as much led by the athlete as the coach.
The athlete is the focal point, whether individual or in a group, and all a coach does should be to help the athlete grow and develop through the stages and achieve success in the junior ranks, in the senior development stages and all the way to Europe. and world stage.
Yet there are times when it seems so complicated and misunderstood, especially with athletic coaches in countries where the sport has evolved downward through the ages.
Here, old coaching styles and methods evolve through experience and expertise. They are often unknown because trainers are so passionate about what they do that they keep the intricate scientific and physiological details to themselves, afraid to bore you with the details.
These may be very specific scientific numbers, involving lactate thresholds and VO2 max, but the general interpretation is what most people need to navigate. It’s about a clear understanding of specific training programs and races on specific days, all with a clear objective.
Sometimes athletes get hung up on a specific area of training and focus on that, which they’ve heard from some of the best runners, forgetting that all the pieces are needed to complete the plan and get the best results.
Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a plan they can stick to due to the urgency of achieving a qualifying time or not missing a fast race where you can break a record or just run a fast time
A simple training plan may seem very basic, but there is no doubt that there will always be long hours of study, thought and understanding in every training plan. When you plot things over and over again and hook up different athletes like anything, it can easily make sense and fall into place.
I remember my first coach, Sean Kennedy, at Cobh drawing diagrams and training phases, all leading up to the biggest goal of the season. It was often lost on me when I was still a teenager, but something I really appreciate now, understanding the time involved and the training phases that have to go through each year as athletes build their seasons.
It’s trickier now, with so many races and the emphasis on lap times rather than competition. It can sometimes be difficult to know what the goal is and where the satisfaction will be delivered. The slow-cooking approach is pushed aside for more instant results and off-the-shelf plans, often with inconsistent results down to luck that can frustrate athletes and coaches.
Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a plan that they can stick to because of the urgency of setting a qualifying time or not missing a fast race where you can break a record or just run a fast time. The art of racing sometimes gets lost too and you sit around and wonder what it’s all about?
The coach is the driving force, the leader with the answers to an athlete’s questions. But when the athlete becomes uncertain and challenges the coach, relationships can change – and sometimes there is reason to change because an athlete is an evolving work of art. Although an athlete may need to change, a coach may need to let go.
This is where if you have a good system of training courses and platforms in a federation, people can work together, share ideas and sometimes even help or challenge each other to help an athlete progress. Too many coaches protect their own patch because if they worked together and shared ideas, more athletes would benefit.
I have great respect for former Irish athlete Marcus O’Sullivan who is the head athletics coach at Villanova University. He’s not afraid to slow down the rush to results and take his time, the slow-cooking approach that’s very beneficial in this time between an exciting junior prospect and a mature senior athlete.
Marcus is patient and understanding of his athletes and what he is trying to accomplish, but that takes buy-in from all sides and patience. There is a cycle that you must go through each year, to build one more story above the foundation starting at a higher level than the previous year.
Sometimes there will be big improvements. More often than not when this happens there will also be dramatic drops in form, and this is where you need experience to pick up the pieces and start over, to regain confidence and belief and take things slow .
This is why good coaches need support and respect, because when things don’t always follow the linear plan, they can get pushed aside, the athlete continues to think they’ve found the new magic bullet.
It’s not just about the daily practical training sessions, but about the communication between coach and athlete – respect and trust are the fundamental basis for any athlete to grow with their coach.
There aren’t as many coach characters as there used to be – some think they know too much and know more than everyone else. But the basics are still there, and if you stick to the basics, you will develop good athletes.
[ Sonia O’Sullivan: The key to success is self-belief and hard work ]
There are a lot of repetitions; run, eat, sleep, again and again. The role of the trainer is to keep things positive, to keep the energy going and sometimes you have to sacrifice some of the physical conditioning with mental stimulation to give a confidence boost.
It takes a good coach to be able to communicate that at the right time and in the right way. There must be fun and a happy, positive environment. Not everything can be serious and intense all the time, sometimes there has to be a dilution to mask the hard work and let athletes surprise themselves, relax and get an energy boost from a positive workout.
It’s about communication, the environment, and the gel that holds the group together. The key to providing good coaching structures in Ireland is that there is a greater sharing of ideas and experiences. Rather than thinking there’s a secret formula you need to hide from potential competitors.
Most good coaches probably already know this.
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