In sports, just like in the rest of society, you have nice guys and you have rebels. Some athletes follow their training schedule meticulously, some of them don’t. Some athletes don’t care about their training log, some of them keep it very carefully. Some athletes send you an update with the regularity of a Swiss watch, others behave nonchalant in this respect.
It is reportedly important that an athlete is very 'coachable'. I say: no prizes are given to the athletes who follow their training schedule punctually. On the contrary, as a coach, my last decade’s experience tells me that it’s rather the other way around: the ones who don’t give a damn usually go further. It’s my opinion that an athlete is, by definition, ‘coachable enough’ when he or she comes to seek your help. That’s a sign they want to learn and listen.
As an athlete, I don’t think I was so easy to handle either. I especially always wanted to do more, it was never enough. Anyway, the experience as an athlete has helped me as a coach: I will never take it for granted that the athlete do as I asks. That’s why I still weekly offer my training ‘schedules’ as a ‘proposal’: they are meant to ‘give direction’, although tailor-made for every single athlete.
Coaching, I believe, is a matter of give-and-take. The trainer makes the athlete, and the athlete makes the trainer. It’s not one-way traffic. The athlete and the coach have to meet with mutual interest. They both need an open mind, willing to learn, willing to listen to each other. That’s where the magic happens. The coach must be willing to make some compromises.
For me, an important message has been to be less academic in at least three ways.
First of all, I had to (and still have to) learn to communicate in very concrete terms, eg. by giving a clear demonstration during a training session, giving very specific examples when writing down advice in a test report. The saying that ‘nothing is as practical as a good theory’ applies for me – tell me why and I will find my way – but apparently not for 90% of the people.
Secondly, academics disgust ambiguous or inappropriate terminology, eg. ‘extensive’ training sessions or ‘recovery runs’, although it’s fancy speaking. But I agree that a language too complicated is not always the best way to communicate – and that is what you want to do as a coach: you want to get your message across. And, in the end, nothing is wrong to talk about ‘hill repeats’ instead of ‘lactate production training’, and catchy names like ‘the superman’ and ‘stir the pot’ mean the difference between being remembered or forgotten.
Third, I still remember Matveyev’s original definition of ‘training’: a structural way to increase performance level. I have learned that ‘clear structure’ (incl. goal of a workout) is sometimes subordinate to the fun of a session, depending on the circumstances. Recreative tennis players do not (always) mind whether they are training ‘change of direction speed’ or ‘specific endurance’. Children very often just want to have fun. But it’s my opinion that you have to be prepared to know your why, because the time comes – for sure – that some of those little children or recreative adults ask for it.
Finally, apart from academic education, every athlete or player has a unique need. Some athletes do not like to run on a track, some of them want high volumes to boost self-confidence. My adult tennis players are not happy with training sessions without a minimal mileage, for my teenage players less is more. As a coach, this kind of attention definitely has added value and even might be an important ingredient in the recipe of success with your athletes.
But you don’t hear me say that you have to deny yourself. You have to stay true to your ideals. For me, this is and remains ‘structure’, a systematic way of working, and it should be scientifically sound. Beyond some point I don’t make compromises. Then it’s my way or the high way. As a coach, you can’t please everyone.
With kind regards,
PS, the above picture was taken during our yearly tennis training camp in Turkey, in the year 2013, while I was listening (or giving instructions?) to the kids.