Let me start by saying that it is always the coach’s job to be more educated and prepared to teach on a subject than their athletes. Additionally, “educated” in this sense is not about having a CSCS or a master’s in exercise science—I define educated as having a general understanding of the principles, reasoning, data, and technology in an athlete training program. It is, however, also very necessary to ensure your athletes are educated on the programs they are part of.
This is also something to consider when writing programs for an athlete. I have athletes who have been with me for more than three years now, and they could pretty much run the gym at this point. These athletes will get very detailed notes, loading schemes, etc.; new athletes, meanwhile, will have more general notes and basic lift cards. It is important to understand both the mental and physical capabilities of an athlete when programming for them. Generally speaking, athletes who are less educated in the weight room are also less experienced—therefore, it just makes sense to give them a more basic lift then an athlete who has three-plus years in the same system.
Coaches should always be in a position of authority in a coach and athlete relationship; however, if a coach is concerned about sharing the reasons behind an athlete’s training program with that athlete, this should be a red flag for both athlete and coach. Having educated athletes not only leads to more success, but it also keeps the athlete-coach relationship strong by encouraging each party to stay accountable to the other.
Here are the four important reasons to have educated athletes:
- Streamlined communication
- Athlete buy-in
- Ease of use
- Knowledge of results
1. Streamlined Communication
Quality communication in the weight room allows athletes to be time efficient and get the desired results from the program, and most importantly, it keeps them safe. Imagine asking an athlete to go and spot one of their peers when they have no knowledge of how to properly spot a fellow athlete? This is a lack of education that first results in poor communication and then finally results in a safety concern for both athletes involved.Quality communication in the weight room allows athletes to be time efficient and get the desired results from the program, and most importantly, it keeps them safe, says @kingashton1. Click To Tweet
Additionally, in a session with the music blaring, imagine answering what RPE means 20 times. When aiming to streamline communication, it is not so a coach can say go self-myofascial release your vastus medialis—a coach in that situation should still probably say go foam roll your inner quads.
When streamlining communication, there are a few important things that an athlete should understand.
- Rep schemes and the rest that goes along with them. Athletes have to understand what they are training for: is it fitness, strength, hypertrophy? Athletes should generally understand that the lower the number of reps, the higher the intensity, and thus the more rest that is generally needed. This helps to combat athletes who don’t listen to the desired rest time that is given for a set, as they now understand the why behind the program.
- Loading parameters. Athletes should understand any loading parameters that are on their workout card. If it is percentage- or velocity-based, they should understand how to calculate for the correct weight for that given set. In a perfect world, athletes would have resources at every rack for this (for example, a percentage chart or a velocity drop chart on every rack). If athletes are using RIR or RPE, they should have a good understanding of these parameters and how they can be used to adjust intensity.
- Tempos. If you are writing tempos on a card, and it reads 3100, athletes need to understand what that means. Is it 3 eccentric, 1 isometric, 0 concentric, and 0 rest between reps? What about a pull-up when the concentric is the first action in the movement? Athletes need to have this clearly defined for them, and they also need to have a general understanding of what the eccentric, isometric, and concentric portions of the lift are. Finally, they must know what a five or three count actually is.
- Any notes on their cards. When putting notes on an athlete’s cards, if they are not actionable for the athlete, it is a waste of time. If you write “retract and depress scaps” and an athlete has no idea what scaps are, that’s entirely a waste of time. When writing notes, think like an athlete and make sure the notes provide the desired feedback.
For example, when intaking athletes at my gym on the final day of their assessment, we sit down with the athlete and their guardians and go through their entire workout. We make sure to highlight the key points outlined above and ensure they have a good understanding of their workout the first day. Not only does this help them in the training process, it also makes the transition to training easier for our floor trainers, as the athletes now have a solid starting foundation.
2. Athlete Buy-In
There is no better way to drive buy-in than having the athletes feel like they are a part of their own development process. This assumes that the program is well thought out, is scientifically sound, and has specific goals for each athlete individually. But, hey, every program in the strength and conditioning world meets that criteria, so what do I have to worry about, right?
Nonetheless, this is also a great way to build culture among athletes, which is what everyone chases in their weight rooms. Ensure you have a few seniors helping freshmen set up a Tendo unit and reminding them of the loading parameters, or athletes pulling together, saying this is going to suck, but there is a reason for it, and we need to get it done. This, as opposed to just lining up on the line and running every time the whistle blows like a bunch of Pavlov’s dogs.
When athletes have an understanding of the why, it is much easier for them to buy in to the day-to-day tasks. I was speaking with a Navy SEAL who is now a BUDs instructor, and he said he has seen numerous people come into BUDs in incredible physical shape, but they don’t make it. He has also seen people who are pretty out of shape make it through the training. He said the single biggest difference in the people that make it versus the ones who don’t is that the ones who do want to be a Navy SEAL more than anything else in the world. These people know exactly why they are at BUDs—they want to be a SEAL. I am the last person to encourage the comparison between the military and training for sport, but this conversation provides a valuable hint at the power of understanding why you are doing something.I always encourage our athletes to ask why they are doing something. I see this as an opportunity to connect with that athlete and really drive their buy-in to our program, says @kingashton1. Click To Tweet
I always encourage our athletes to ask why they are doing something. I see this as an opportunity to connect with that athlete and really drive their buy-in to our program. I regularly float around between sets and strike up a conversation such as “how does this feel?” or “do you see how this can help your on-field performance?” This is often sufficient to generate enough of a conversation to communicate the why to that athlete and increase their confidence in the program. This has also led to some great follow-up conversations with our athletes who are more interested in the subject, so much so that it has led to them being hired on as interns.
3. Makes Weight Room Setup Easier
At my gym, we have Tendo units, Just Jump pads, InBody devices, laser timers, contact grids—you name it, and we likely have it or are looking to get it. This is a little bit of a humblebrag, but the point is we have a lot of tech, and we have to learn how to implement it with our athletes. There is nothing worse than having to set up a Tendo unit for the same athlete six weeks in a row or having to set up a Just Jump pad to get a few vertical jumps.
It is the strength staff’s job to have these devices set up and ready to roll for the day; however, if you can properly teach an athlete to set it up correctly for their personal use, that is vitally important. Additionally, data is only as good as its validity and reliability. If the Tendo unit is supposed to be set up at a filter of 15 and it is set up at 35, that changes the data—or, if athletes are supposed to start 80 centimeters behind the laser timer but get too close, that changes the data as well.
Furthermore, if athletes do not know what the numbers being spit out to them are, they have no way to track the correct data. If they were to record flight time—rather than vertical jump—that would be an issue. It is also vitally important that they know what they are looking for. For example, when looking at a Tendo unit, if they track average power rather than peak power, their numbers will be way off. Finally, educated athletes are able to do general troubleshooting on their own, which frees up the coach to work with other athletes.
Even if a coach does not have this technology at their disposal, it is still vitally important that athletes track data correctly. If an athlete has a one-plus set, it is important that they record the correct number of reps on the plus set. Additionally, when athletes need to set up their racks for an exercise, they need to know how to do that. If an athlete has to do a banded back squat but has no idea how to properly put bands on, this not only leads to poor training, but also presents a safety concern.
Overall, when athletes know how to set up the technology and exercises they use, it ensures that the data they collect is both reliable and valid, while allowing the coach to not have their head buried in computers the whole training session. It also ensures that the exercises are being performed and set up correctly each and every time an athlete does their workouts.When athletes know how to set up the technology and exercises they use, it ensures that the data they collect is both reliable and valid, and exercises are being performed and set up correctly. Click To Tweet
In the weight room, if an athlete asks me how to set something up for them, rather than running over and doing it for them, I take the time to walk them through the process for themselves. Often, this is the only time they will ever ask, as they will be able to set it up themselves, or they will be able to work through it with someone in their training group.
4. Validates Results
While the above three reasons are important, I feel that knowledge of results is the most important. When training day-in and day-out, an athlete can’t help but want to see positive results. Athletes who are educated on the training process are able to better understand the results they see.
The education process also keeps athletes more engaged through the various mesocycles during the years. Rather than wanting to see their 40-yard dash time drop during a GPP cycle, an athlete could be presented with their fitness test results instead. Or, if they see all of their results at once, the athlete can better understand why their fitness test got better but their 40-yard dash did not improve.
This sound understanding of their results keeps all parties accountable. When an athlete and a coach both know the results from a given training cycle, they both know whether the program did what it was designed to do. This creates a positive rapport between athletes and coaches by encouraging open communication about their results and whether or not they met the athlete and coach’s expectations. There is nothing more important to fostering a positive athlete-coach relationship than open communication about expectations and results.There is nothing more important to fostering a positive athlete-coach relationship than open communication about expectations and results, says @kingashton1. Click To Tweet
Every 12 weeks, we reassess our athletes through our assessment process. At the end of the week, we take the time to meet with each athlete individually. We go over their assessment results and explain what went well and what went poorly. We also set the stage for the next cycles of training by explaining what we will be focusing on and why. This way, when they come to their next assessment, they know what numbers they are looking to improve.
Steps You Can Take to Educate Athletes
Here are six actionable steps you can take to educate your athletes:
- Take time at the start of the season or when they start in your program to teach athletes the basics. Teaching them things such as loading schemes, daily procedures, notes, and basic movements on the first day goes a long way toward the education of your athletes over time.
- During daily training groups, float around and have small side conversations with athletes about the exercises they are performing and why each is important.
- Be transparent. During a GPP phase, some workouts may be more difficult and less enjoyable for athletes to perform than workouts during a peaking phase. Tell your athletes this and why; they will appreciate you for it.
- Set time aside to meet with your athletes individually or in small groups. In the same way sport coaches meet with their athletes at the end of the preseason or post season, take this time with your athletes as well.
- Aim to do something weekly to continue your athlete’s education.
- Put together a database for your athletes. Your more engaged athletes will take advantage of this and pass along their knowledge to the others in the group.
There’s a good chance that your educated athletes will also become your more successful athletes.
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