Are Coaches Ruining Sports

“The NBA has made a real issue about really making these superstars the premium that everybody wants to go to. That’s their calling card and their marketing tool. But the coaches at the other end of the sphere are trying to make everybody on the team, even nine, 10, 11, 12, just as important, and have a real role that’s meaningful.” – Phil Jackson


I recently read an article titled, “Strength Coaches are Ruining Football” (I couldn’t find the article to link to or give proper credit to the author) that was written in response to last months Oregon football off-season conditioning program that sent 3 players to the hospital, one with Rhabdomyolysis.  Rhabdo as it is know as, is when skeletal muscle tissue breaks down rapidly causing high levels of waste product, like protein myoglobin to enter the blood stream.  If continued and left untreated this could result in kidney failure.

The article was talking about how strength coaches try to use conditioning to make their players mentally tough.  The writer explains how this toughness is actually a “fake toughness” and so it really is an antiquated method.

Recently we have a had several athletes come in with practice related injuries due to misapplication of training methods both by their sport coaches and their school strength coaches.  So in reality the article I read could have been titled, “Coaches Are Ruining Sports.”  Let me first off state that it is only bad coaching that is ruining sports and I know several good coaches so this is not a bash coaches article, as I myself would be included since I am a strength, conditioning and athlete development coach.  I am starting to see a trend in more and more unqualified or inexperienced coaches trying to coach outside their scope of knowledge.

That being said, we are seeing more and more cases of athletes being literally broken by their coaches.  We had a swimmer whose practice, 10 days before a meet mind you, was so intense that their body became numb and they developed a shoulder injury which made it difficult to even left their hand up over head.  Another swimmer came in with a biceps strain.  Come to find out they were doing bicep curls as part of an in-season strength program?!?!  Also they had them doing trunk twists with a barbell on their back.

For those who don’t know why those are completely inappropriate, swimmers need to get their arms/bodies long.  Doing biceps curls is going to make the muscle tight.  Going out and swimming and trying to get the arm long, after spending time making the muscle short/tight is going to lead to a strain at best.  Don’t even get me started not the barbell twists right now.

These incidents are not relegated to just swimming either.  An in-season volleyball conditioning as punishment drill included 52 gassers (sprints across the short court) followed by a dive at the end.  Yes, lets dive on the court 52 times, in a fatigued state, in a short amount of time; What could possibly go wrong?  Another coaching technique more than likely caused a stress fracture in another athlete.

Track coaches having de-conditioned athletes running 5+ miles on their first day of practice.  Having catchers catch 3-6 games over a weekend.  Soccer coaches doing conditioning as punishment the day after losing a tournament, when their athletes bodies haven’t even recovered from the wear and tear of the tournament.  Strength coaches doing high intensity jumping during in-season basketball.  Having a pitcher do bench press and curls during pre-season conditioning (this is actually bad pretty much anytime of the year for a pitcher).

These are all the things our athletes or parents have told us that have happened in the last month and a half!  Seriously what is going on in my profession?  There are too many uneducated, over-zealous, and/or incompetent coaches in charge of youth athletes.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was nowhere near the coach I am today when I first started.  For all intents and purposes I was the least knowledgeable coach to start a business in the health/fitness scene.  Fortunately for me, I did not have the ego that most coaches do, so I leaned on those who knew way more than me and took their advice.  The other thing that I did was to error on the side of caution.  I knew I didn’t know about training athletes, so I leaned on my former business partner Jason Owings while I was in the process of educating myself.

He had been in the fitness profession for several years before he came to us.  Although he had knowledge, he had not worked with kids either, so he also took an error on the side of caution approach as he educated himself on working with kids.

While I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable coach when it comes to working with youth athletes, I am not the smartest so I still continue to learn from those better than me.  I have over a dozen youth oriented certifications; from active movement and play for toddlers through High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist.  I have certifications for adults and just passed a Conditioning Coach Certification.  I read books and articles daily, follow a couple of dozen coaches who are the top in their industry, and continue to educate myself through other means.  My next project is a nueroeconomics course to learn how fatigue affects decision making.

What I’m getting at, is lack of knowledge or experience isn’t the reason athletes are getting hurt; it is a coaches grand ideas of coaching the next Micheal Phelps, Mia Hamm, Madison Bumgardner, Gabby Douglas, Steph Curry, Usain Bolt, etc. that is the root of the problem.

As coaches, parents, athletes, we look at coaches who have coached superstars and feel we need to do what they are doing, but how many times have you stopped to think about how many athletes have they taken that far?  Maybe Micheal Phelps coach isn’t really that good, or maybe he got lucky that he got such a genetically gifted athlete.  How many athletes did so and so’s coach ruin.  How many athletes succeed/survive in spite of their coaches and/or training?  These are things we all need to think about as we judge the efficacy of a coach or a training program.

I’m willing to bet you have never heard of Dr. Anatoliy Bonderchuk.  He could be one of the greatest coaches of all time regardless of sport.  Bonderchuk, a hammer thrower, is a former world record holder and 1972 gold medal winner in the hammer throw.  What he accomplished as an athlete is nothing compared to his coaching resume.  He has coached medal winners in 5 olympics and several world record holder.  I have read that he coached the Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners in 3 consecutive Olympics.  Now that is a coach whose methods and training program work!  That is a coach all coaches need to strive to be.  What makes him great is that he coaches what he knows, he doesn’t try to coach everyone. He coaches Olympic hopeful atheltes.

As smart as Bonderchuk is he probably also realizes that his skill set would not transfer over to elementary school, middle school, and probably even early high school athletes.  There in lies the elephant in the room.  Too many coaches or former players turned coaches, are trying to use advanced training techniques with youth athletes.  It doesn’t work well.  Sure you may get an athlete or two who survive your training methods so you can make a name for yourself, but how many athletes did you ruin seeking that glory?

For us, its just not worth it.  We will continue to error on the side of caution, because we are in the business to build athletes, all of our athletes not just the genetically gifted one.  We don’t ever want to break one.  Even our least gifted, no shot at making a college team or even a high school team athlete deserves not to be broken.  Besides, as we are finding out, your best ability is availability.  If you are hurt, you can’t play.  It’s that simple.

Thank you for trusting us with your athlete and we hope this helps in some way.

Train Smart and Dominate!

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