The Coach (Part 2)

Posted: August 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

This post continues on from The Coach (Part 1).

Sacrifice and Invest

Unless you live under a rock, you are probably catching some footage of the Olympics from time to time. The Olympics is intended to be the pinnacle of sport, where mere mortals test the boundaries of human potential. As you are no doubt sick of reading, there’s “plenty to learn” from these individuals. If you watch the interviews given by the athletes, you’ll probably notice that amongst the scripted “thank you”, “tried my best” and “so proud of everyone on the team” script lines, you will often hear an apology. I’m not talking about the “sorry, I could have done better” you may have heard, but rather the occasional “sorry, I haven’t been there” directed towards the athlete’s family/friends. The awesome performances we see at the Olympics are not simply a glimpse into the life of an extremely talented individual . You are seeing the product of years of hard work and personal sacrifice…time spent training hard in the gym/on the field/in the pool is not simply time spent training, it’s time spent away from loved ones, from home pursuits, from holidays.

However, sacrifice is not only meant for Olympians. In fact, in the pursuit of any feat, great or small, sacrifice is a necessary component for success. Examples include sacrificing time spent playing video games for time spent studying or giving up chocolate/pies/crisps/chips/gravy in order to help lose weight. Of course, sacrifice isn’t always easy, but with time it can become a habit. It’s times like this it’s worth thinking about your goals and why you want to achieve them. I spent some time at the beginning of the summer learning about Social Cognitive Theory – a model for motivation. In short, it boils down to 3 main points – believing you are physically capable of achieving a goal, believing achievement of the goal is socially respected/acceptable and that you yourself find the goal respectable/good for you. Next time you are lacking motivation, try thinking about those 3 points – you may very well find new motivation, or perhaps discover what attracted you towards a goal in the first place.

In a coaching context, sacrifice is a double barrelled weapon. Sacrificing a bit of sleep or a few pints to research training models or review training plans isn’t easy to begin with, but provided that you’re working “smart”, every minute sacrificed can help improve an athlete’s performance. In the end, it comes down to what you personally think is the most important. The second major benefit is the appreciation/inspiration of the athletes themselves. You can’t expect an athlete to continually sacrifice their own time and make effort to do work prescribed by a coach who hasn’t invested time in what should be a shared goal. This means being present for those 6am sessions, making your presence significant in every training session and showing athletes that you genuinely care about their performance. If you are passionate about what you are doing, this isn’t much of a challenge – but acknowledging it as a responsibility can improve not only performance/motivation, but the entire training atmosphere. That doesn’t mean you should welp and cry if your athletes perform poorly, but rather that you should show them that you too feel that pain/have been there before, whilst still providing a strong/unfaltering outlook on the future. Be that strong, empathic shoulder to rest on and give direction.

Justify Hard Work

Justifying hard work is part of what the Social Cognitive Model attempts to do. What I’d like to discuss is how a coach can ensure that an individual understands that hard work has benefits and the methods I used with DUBC to achieve this.

I found that if people were able to track their progress, there was a significant benefit in their motivation to train and effort in individual pieces. As well as being a useful motivational tool, tracking performance outcomes is also an easy way of monitoring improvement and ensuring the prescribed regime is doing its job. The testing used for DUBC followed 2 simple rules: it had to be specific and it had to be holistic. What I mean by this is that testing had specifically test physical outcomes in a rowing context and had to encompass all elements of 2k/1k racing – aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, power and race specific ability – conducted as follows:

On a Concept 2 Ergometer:
Aerobic capacity: 5k test piece (for best time), heart rate monitored UT2 pieces (heart rate <150bpm)
Anaerobic capacity: 1 minute maximum (distance)
Power: 7 stroke testing (watts)
Race specific ability: 1km and 2km test pieces (for best time)

Slipping this into a training regimen training the phyiological outcomes associated with rowing was relatively simple. Aside from the test pieces, the other testing measures could be conducted at the end of a warm-up with virtually no impact on the training session, or as part of the training session itself (for example heart rate monitored UT2 pieces).

2k/5k test pieces are not tests that can be conducted too often as they create a certain degree of fear amongst participants in the week/weeks prior to test time. However, I found that 1k pieces could be performed weekly, provided that they were controlled and part of a complete session. Weekly 4x1k sessions occurred at one stage of training, with each 1k piece set at a pre-determined slower pace than the last. Each week, this pace would increase. This had 2 main aims: 1k race preparation and progress monitoring.

Most individuals continued to achieve times they were proud of and were able to observe, due to session recording/planning, that performances that had once been very hard to achieve were now much less taxing. In short, due to continued recording of progress, the athletes were able to see that the hard work they had put in was indeed improving their performance significantly, thus justifying hard work.

As an aside, I should note that I used 4x1ks instead of perhaps a 3x2ks session because the athlete group was largely novice (1k racing) and the pace also provided experience at 2k maximum effort pace. Furthermore, the shorter distance kept students with busy schedules in the gym for a short amount of time., without sacrificing training benefits.


I’m not sure when I’ll be able to write Part 3 as the 4th year of my medical degree kicks off on Monday, so I best point this out now. The training described above is a very brief glimpse of the whole regime, but it doesn’t highlight an important aspect of our training. All together, the results were magnificent. Improvements across the board in testing were accompanied by gold, silver and bronze medal performances at the Scottish Universities Championships and Scottish Championships as well as a clean sweep in novice racing at the Clyde. Last year lit the fuse…this year, Dundee University Boat Club is set to build on these previous accomplishments on route to becoming a serious force in Scottish rowing. Time will tell, but given the proven dedication of these athletes and the commitee behind them, they could not be in a better position to race onward.


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