Holistic Coaching


Is your defensive practice lacking intensity because your players are lazy or is it actually because they are fatigued? Will punishment runs boost their performance or drive them further in to fatigue? What would you do to restore their energy levels?

Is your athlete rounding his back because he has poor technique or is it actually because he lacks mobility and cannot physically adopt a flat back no matter how much he practices?  How would you improve his mobility?

Are your players failing to execute the game plan because they haven’t been paying attention in training or is it actually because of your coaching style? How could you adapt training sessions to ensure the players do understand what is required of them and are able to execute the plan?

In the former Soviet Union sport coaches completed Batchelor’s and Master’s degrees right up to PhD’s in their particular sport. They understood, in depth, the specific areas that make up competitive athletes such as biology, biomechanics, psychology, nutrition, tactics, and so on. As a result they were making decisions on the training and coaching of their athletes from a fully informed position and worked in very small teams. This video interview with the Soviet Sport Scientist Vladimir Zatsiorsky explains in greater detail how the system worked.

Many sport teams these days have an ever increasing back room staff as the Head Coach/Manager often has very little knowledge of specialty areas such as nutrition, biomechanics or physiology and so employs an expert to take care of it for him. The challenge then is assimilating all the various inputs from these staff members and fitting it all in to the working week. You only need look at the disaster of the British and Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand in 2005 to see what happens at the extreme end of this equation with 26 members of back room staff each wanting to have an input.

Physical Preparation coaches I know at the professional level have voiced their frustration of working with Head Coaches who have no understanding or inclination to learn about even the basics of physiology or the impact of fatigue. Predominantly ex-players, these coaches want to prepare their teams the way they were prepared 20 years ago when their success was in spite of their training not because of it. Carefully planned programs are destroyed when the coach decides to run the players for a punishment or a notional attempt at instilling so called “Mental Toughness” on a whim rather than any factual basis.

It was very refreshing therefore to see the other end of the scale in a video put out by British Athletics showing a training session for the 400m sprinter Richard Buck coached by Steve Fudge. Steve Fudge is a Sprints and Hurdles coach who came from a Physical Preparation and Sport Therapy background and clearly has a good knowledge base from which to work. The video is fascinating (and very rare) on many levels as it shows an entire session with regular, in depth commentary from Steve and his mentor, Kevin Tyler, giving the rationale for everything they are doing. The physical preparation, technical coaching, trackside therapy and nutrition is run by Steve and so all aspects work seemlessly. The results at the end of the video show how successful this approach can be.

Obviously this approach is not possible for many coaches or teams in terms of logistics or time. Many will argue that a Jack of all trades is a master of none. However, the video does highlight the benefits of coaches taking an holistic approach to preparing athletes. Aiming for at least a basic understanding of the many aspects of their athlete’s performance with carefully selected mentors guiding them where necessary rather than hoping that a team of experts will take care of it all for them.

Simon Nainby is an Accredited Strength & Conditioning Coach and Tutor, Sports Massage Therapist, RFU Level II coach and an Assistant Athletics Coach. He has worked for a number of professional and semi-professional teams and he currently acts as a coaching consultant through Underground Athletics to a wide range of athletes from rugby players to Olympic Lifters. He provides physical preparation training and support in order to maximise sports performance. This consists of strength, speed and power training combined with recovery support to create a periodised programme which is essential for athletes to perform to their potential.

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