Old School Coaching is Cutting Edge Technology
No mystery that I am a fan of technology and love to design, experiment, and use the best tools for coaching. The problem is technology is seen as a solution to coaching or even a replacement, rather than something that is more of a continuum. I have had several coaches lecture to me about technology changing the game, yet their own workouts in 2014 would be pale to what some strength coach in Italy was doing in 1985. For some reason technology is polarizing and has a stigma, if you use anything beyond pen and paper you are not manly, or if you only use pen and paper you are clueless in preparing athletes. Technology is one of man’s achievements, but technology is still an extension of someone, not a replacement. What is disturbing is now we are in an age of have and have-nots with many budgets in college and high school levels. Some high school teams in Texas have massive facilities and major budgets, while other teams are just trying to keep their uniforms from looking old with fundraisers. Many coaches to me have expressed their fear that they are stuck in the hiring process because some GA positions are getting jobs that most head coaches should get because they have GPS software knowledge, and Ads and GMs think this is a skill set. I would laugh if this was just an isolated event, but the truth is technology is anything made made really, and we have to appreciate all ingenuity, not just the ability to write a purchase order for equipment. Like barbells, it’s about what you do with it based on education and coaching, not just having a job that caters to big budgets and seeing a summary of what we all see on the practice fields.
Skipping the basics or not polishing fundamentals is why with all this rise of data and technology we still have very paltry injury rates and poor performances. I don’t fault the technology or medical advances, I fault the practitioners not capitalizing on the available tools and the lack of execution in doing what should be a starting point. I believe Technology is an escape for coaches who are sometimes bored and want fantasy. I think monitoring the ANS (autonomic nervous system) is important but if you are not doing basic speed and power tests, what is your goal? Performance is directly related to performance, and monitoring should be used to help it, not replace poor effort or fear of getting someone hurt. Dashboards and Leaderboards are useful, but if the numbers stink because your program stinks, eventually those outside yourself will use those lame numbers against you if they don’t trend well. I have spent years helping people use simple technology solutions better, but they are experiencing a very illiterate batch of young coaches who are at the age of 23 read business books instead of their anatomy books. They know the book Outliers but can’t create them in training.
My philosophy is that technology is about what you do with what you have, and not about budgeting and popularity. Skinfold fat testing is not perfect, but coaches want dashboards to look at CNS fatigue but fail to see if guys are adding more mass. Coaches are talking about using regression analysis, but can’t even show attendance based on available times to train. We have coaches talking about body load on the computer screen, but can’t choose weights with simple exercises to improve power. The bad news is that more technology is coming down, and more data is going to flood the laptop and smartphones with wireless BAN (body area networks). While cheaper means greater adoption, with what people are juggling now I see more confusion and poor application. The good news is that with any trend or change, all of this resolves itself over time. One of my favorite coaching books is Jurassic Park, not because it’s “out of the box thinking” like many pop books coaches read, but because it’s based on the attempt to be a little too smart for one’s own good. Overconfidence is a big problem and several coaches assume that things are to be true. For example every data set needs to be interpreted and seen as still a hint and not solution. I have seen this first hand with coaches trying to create workloads with GPS systems and have found that effort and speed don’t match, body load for offensive lineman are nearly useless, and acceleration must be compared to linear testing and video analysis.
“Pablo are you tired today? Your high intensity runs are down?”
Response: “ Yes I am tired because we lifted the day after the game and now I am sore”
Getting a bunch of athletes to respect the training process, show up on time because they have good attitudes and buy in is hard. Full range pull-ups, optimal depth in leg exercises, and following directions is 90% of training. I do think technology is getting an advantage when one has all the elements in place and they want to get that last 1% people speak of, but the other 99% is always about the other guy, never about one’s own program.
Most of what I do with testing technology is to share to coaches not to buy it or to use it only for specific reasons. This isn’t popular and similar to supplements. Sure a few pills and powders help, like a Vitamin D supplement or protein for convenience, but Rock Stars or Monster Energy drinks don’t replace sleep and good food choices. Like supplements technology is supporting good coaching, not a quick fix to improving results if the basics are not done first. As a lesson I always use what my grandfather told me, get piece of graph paper and a good pencil first, before moving on to the more esoteric stuff. This way future coaches who intern during the summer see that thinking and preparing is always better than the next toy available.
Note: Thank you to Bob Alejo for reminding me that you can win a D1 championship in soccer without any technology and for providing the title to this guest blog.