An Accurate Observation Is Never Wrong, or What a Coach Needs to Know


First a statement from James Marshall’s review of Science of Sports Training:

“The book is a bit old now, published in 2001, with most of the research quoted pre-dating that. This would probably disqualify it from being used as an academic text book, but as a coaching handbook it is very good.”

This made me think, “How important really is it for a coach to have the most up-to-date research?”

I quoted a lot of research papers in this book and in my other books. I did it to back up claims or advice that run contrary to common wisdom (or rather common stupidity . . .).

Some of the old research I quoted was, and still is, valuable no matter whether it was done in 1920 or in 2000. Human physiology (including its expression in human psychology) doesn’t change from decade to decade, not from century to century, hardly from millennium to millennium, so accurate observations of human movements and human nature hold true no matter their age. (Think of the oldest medical manuals of India and China, or fencing manuals of ages past. . . .)

Valuable studies and experiments are those that reveal truths relevant to the training process, yet not easily arrived at by “listening to one’s body” or “paying attention to clues.” Everything else is just fulfilling the academic requirement to publish.

Now, what is important for a coach or an instructor? Understanding the human body and mind enough to know the relationship between input and output, then observing athletes and adjusting the input. (But the ability to observe and apply the results of the observations requires overcoming mental inertia, or “emptying one’s cup.”)

In one of my blog posts, Strength Training vs Skill Training or More on Super Slow and Similar Approaches, I wrote: “When in doubt, refer to everyday observations. An accurate observation is never wrong.”

Take the most important, in my opinion, principle of sports training: the principle of individualization and accessibility of training. (When you think of it, all other principles of training are based on that one.) As you apply it, you see that studying the most recent research on exercise science matters much less than observing athletes’ mood, movement quality, signs of fatigue, and apprehension and adjusting the training process accordingly.

More articles on the practical application of principles of training are found at the Stadion Publishing site.

The above post was written for a blog festival hosted a few months ago by Excelsior. Other posts for that blog festival were written by Wayne Goldsmith, Istvan Javorek, Nick Beasant, Frans Bosch, Andy Larmour, Neil Taylor, Simon Worsnop, James Marshall, Paula Jardine, Carol Farley, Kevin Bowring, Andrew Hamilton, Dave Rotheram, Anton Parker, and Roy Headey.

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