On Judging Coaches: Part Two

Our sport (yes, it is a sport) has now evolved to the point where by and large we all get what needs to be done. You have to be strong, you have to be fast, you have to be gymnasticy and cardio-y and you have to endure, et cetera, et cetera. The weightings HQ puts on each aspect every year can, and in my guess, will, keep changing, but we all know this now.

So it’s no longer a case of knowing what needs to be done. We know the answer – everything.

It now becomes a case of knowing how to do everything, in what proportions, to get the best response out of an athlete to do as well as they can on game day.

And this is where the difference in coaches will lie over the next few years of our sport.

First of, let’s cover what every coach should have. They should have enough understanding of technique to continue to give an athlete technical corrections well past the novice phase. This is often highlighted in weightlifting/strength work, but should apply to gymnastics, conditioning, metcons and everything else. For the novice this is impossible to know, and unfortunately it’s only after exposure to a variety of coaches that one could make an educated guess on this.

(We’re leaving aside all the responsibilities on the athlete here for this article.)

Secondly the coach should have enough knowledge of programming to continue progress past the novice phase. In year one you make progress just by being there, so programming really doesn’t matter. Heresy I know but we’re grossly oversimplifying things for this discussion.

That’s the bulk of what we’re going to assume all coaches have for this discussion. If they don’t even have these, they’re not a coach, just an enthusiast with a facility. Again, harsh, but it’s my article and I’m making the assumptions I want.

Coaches just had to be technicians at the beginning of our sport. Now, they need to be strategist, tacticians, and maybe part alchemist as well.

Compare it to MMA, a sport that’s about 10 years ahead of CF in development. At the start, anyone who knew an armbar and had some mats could be a coach. Now, of course, coaches have to be able to refine developed fighters techniques and gameplan for their opponent.

(As an aside, combat sports are much more transient than ours. If you hypothetically ran 20 guys through 100 fights with each other, you wouldn’t get the same consistency that you would if you took 20 CrossFitters and ran them through 100 Games. Read Scorecasting about this.)

So now, what separates coaches? All coaches have biases, and styles, and personalities. And it’s now a case of whether these match and gel with the athlete.

Matching and gelling will be the most important part of the coach-athlete relationship. Because of a coach’s style and ideology, an athlete may gravitate towards them or not. If they don’t, there’s always going to be tension and mistrust.

The athlete’s trust in the coach and process is vital. Communication even more vital. More important than programming. (I know I’ve said that twice already.) If the athlete doesn’t understand, or at least, trust the coach’s vision, they’ll halfheartedly do the programme, or omit certain parts, or add in extras. Therefore it’s super important that the coach gets the athlete on board with the process. Is it designed to give PRs in certain areas while neglecting others? Is it designed not to have any PRs for months on end during the off season? What’s the point of all the assistance work/EMOMs/mono structural pieces, etc.? You can’t judge a coach on one session or a week’s worth of programming without knowing the coach’s vision and reasoning and who they’re working with. This was covered in part one.

Now, given all the coach’s biases, we run into another problem of evaluating a coach. Because of their biases, their tests are always going to be biased as well. If they place priority on a 60 minute row, we can program and test for that. Then show how the programming is paying off. Ditto for squats, deadlifts, etc. The best tests would be the Open/Regional workouts, but even then coaches can program for these tests, or be selective in which events they’ll pick for test and retest. Plus there’s a huge difference between doing an Open/Regional/Games workout in isolation versus in sequence during competition.

The only “perfect” test of a a coach’s efficacy is The Games season itself. Because that’s when the sport is the sport, and not a coach’s or local competition organiser’s opinion of what the sport is. Here we can actually see where the athlete stacks up.

Experts can’t predict what’s going to happen. Experts are experts because they explain why things happened. So if a coach guesses what’s going to happen in the game, they’re lucky. I know lucky is an oversimplification, so don’t get uppity on it. They could have spotted a trend and trained for that, or they could have missed it completely. Castro likes to be unpredictable and buck the trends, and it’s only in hindsight we can say we guessed right.

BUT, unfortunately without having identical twins, it’s still up for interpretation whether an athlete would have done better under a different program. The athlete’s placing will pretty much decide this. If they place well, they’ll no doubt continue to trust the coach. If they don’t, they’ll most likely start looking for things wrong with the program. And given that we’re at the stage where you must focus on something to the expense of others, it’s going to be easy to pick on that.

Join us for Part Three where I’ll say why you can call a coach shitty. If I get around to finishing it!

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