At conferences and talks, its quite common to hear Strength and Conditioning Coaches reference the relative balance of 'Strength' and 'Conditioning' in their everyday work. We all follow slightly different pathways into the industry, and with those pathways come individual differences in our skills, philosophies and programming preferences. Coming to Strength and Conditioning from a background of endurance sport, my personal knowledge-base was certainly more skewed towards the conditioning side than strength.
While I, and I'm sure many coaches alike, continue to work to address these imbalances, it was reflecting upon this process that led me to consider that our relative Strength-to-Conditioning-know-how-ratio is not perhaps the widest gap in most our skill-sets.
Strength and Conditioning is a burgeoning area of academic and applied research. As such, should we wish to develop our theoretical or academic understanding within the field of Strength and Conditioning, the information we might need to bring us up to speed is literally at our fingertips. These opportunities are well publicised with any number of e-newsletters, subscriptions, workshops and seminars forming an active education sector within the field of Strength and Conditioning. If you don't know your or your MAF from your V02 - no problem.
Now of course, academic knowledge alone does not make a great S&C coach. It is just one component of the bigger picture. Any coach worth their salt knows the lab is not real life, and rarely will the latest journal protocol barely resemble what you might be able to practically implement in training. The point is, when it comes to both the science behind S&C and subsequent application of that knowledge, the field of Strength and Conditioning promotes a widespread awareness of the need for balance if we are to maximise the utility of our practical and scientific understanding.
The lack of Coaching Science in Strength and Conditioning
When it comes to the development of our coaching know-how, I feel we begin to lose that aforementioned balance. While there is clearly no shortage of coaches and organisations stressing the importance of developing our coaching ability, the constructive discourse and application of up to date research in the field is sorely lacking.
Part of the problem, can be summed up well by the predominant notion of "Coaching as an art”. Now I’m not for one second going to even try to deny the creativity, intuition and experience that undeniably contributes to making of a great coach. My issue, is that at some ways, this idea can diminish our responsibility in ascribing structure, critical thought and practice-based evidence on our journey as coaches. Coaching is not just an art. The ‘science of coaching’, is a field of research that is as valid and as buoyant as that of S&C. Yet despite the existence of area of research that produces systematic, peer reviewed literature, it hardly seems to form a blip on the radar of most S&C coaches. I believe the longer we only mention the requirement for developing our coaching skills, yet continue to define it as some nebulous idea that comes from experience and a bit of gut feel, the wider the gap between our technical S&C knowledge and our applied coaching skills will grow.
The need for Coaching Psychology in Strength and Conditioning
So what do we do about it? Iron out the inconsistencies and start treating coaching as we do our S&C knowledge - with a bit more scientific and academic rigour. I’m not saying ignore the contributions of creativity, intuition or experience on our individual journeys to becoming a better coach, nor do I wish to overstate the value of ‘scientific evidence’. But as a profession, Strength and Conditioning has a great deal to learn from fields of research that specialise in the coaching domain.
The Special Group for Coaching Psychology (SGCP) for example, was founded approximately a couple of years before the UKSCA. It was done so
"in response to concerns about untrained or poorly trained coaches, and the related need to promote improved standards of practice for the benefit of the profession of coaching, coaches, their clients and the public at large"
The potential application of Coaching Psychology to the role of a Strength and Conditioning coach is as obvious as it is (seemingly) absent. Strength and Conditioning is a cross-disciplinary field, and must integrate the working knowledge of physiologists, biomechanists, physical therapists, nutritionist/dieticians etc on a daily basis. I think it would do well to increase its integration and with that of Psychology and in particular, Coaching Psychology. Coaching Psychology is about the practical and considered application of the art AND the science of coaching in service of our clients' goals. To consider coaching as just art, and to leave our development as S&C coaches in the hands of the anecdotal, I believe is a disservice to both ourselves and our athletes.
In future posts I hope to distill some of the more recent learnings from the field of Coaching Psychology in relation to S&C and would urge you, if you don't already, to consider doing the same.