The Maturation of Effective Coaching by Vince McConnell

What you need to understand about the maturation of effective coaching:

  • The profession of coaching is a commitment to continued learning before it can progress into a lasting career of application. 
  • There is no universal “the” way, or “the best” way for a strength coach to do his/her job in regards to techniques, methods, or systems.  
  • “New information” does not have to be something you’ve never heard of to be innovative.    
  • All information is useful whether you choose to apply it all or not.  
  • A career in coaching is about using a program to fit and develop athletes– rather than using athletes to suit and develop a program. 
  • Continuing education as a strength coach comes full circle – simple to complex and back to simple. 
  • Effective coaching proficiency begins in using your accumulated knowledge.  
  • Effective coaching efficiency begins in confidently making adjustments to a designed program. 
  • Effective coaching maturity begins when ‘checks and balances’ is your priority when reading, watching, listening to “new” information.   

To those not in the coaching profession, there’s the perception that being an effective strength coach is based largely on how close you can get to mimicking a stereotypical military drill sergeant.

While there may in fact be times that this appearance can be observed—and by the way, it’s relatively easy to just motivate athletes for a brief period of time– sustained success as a strength and conditioning coach is a manifestation of years of seeking as many resources and studying as much information as is available to you.  

Even though the sport-specific staff is the “player developer,” a strength coach needs to be both the architect and the contractor of the athlete’s development.

In early stages of any coaching career there’s a vital phase of accumulation where you expose yourself to as much material and seek as much information as is available. Yes, this can be a frustrating and intimidating time along with the excitement of learning new stuff.

It All Has Value

Valuable resources include courses, classes, and textbooks based on human performance on subjects such as physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, psychology, and nutrition. From there, a large selection of seminars, workshops, video and audio teachings, and books are seemingly growing in volume by the month.

Beyond those resources are those invaluable openings to intern at respected training facilities. If even for a brief period of time, these direct opportunities to observe and engage the process of effective coaching may be the most important to a young coach’s career.

Even material that is not worth your applying can serve to confirm what is worth including in your program at this time. Thus, even “nonsense” can benefit you.

Many of these resources will include some information that may surpass your level of comprehension, and plenty that will contrast each other. Do not allow that to interfere with the content that can be understood and used.

The reality is, in even the highest standards of academia, you will actually use a relatively small percentage of the information you are exposed to. Wisdom comes in consistent application and assessment of the collected information, and seeing any confusion as a learning opportunity for clarity.  

Again, in this extended phase you are best to “take it all in” as best as your personal ability to assimilate and retain may be. Take every teaching as relevant; take physical notes of everything. Again, accumulate.

Along with some valid and applicable information there will be some erroneous and unusable stuff. In the earlier stages of your coaching career you will not yet be equipped with the insight to discern what is useful and what is not. Only through applying this information for over that extended period of time with a large variety of athletes will all the accumulative information become knowledge.

The irony of this process is that though you are gathering a plethora of material, it’s to come to a point where you recognize the content that is truly applicable.

There is plenty of valid information in theory that simply may not be practical for your purposes.  This confirms the truth that simple beats complex as no matter how “intelligent” a program may be, it’s only as effective as its application.

Confusion to Clarity

With this increasing knowledge comes the experience of conflict, which means a point where you begin to see a lot of the knowledge clashes with each other and boils to a point of confusion. This is that moment where the maturing process must commence.

Refuse to be discouraged when there’s confusion or conflict. Choose to see this as a learning opportunity, seek clarity, and continue on. The solution is nearly always in the category of “simplify”.

Continuing education in the world of performance strength and conditioning is a full circle reality, simple to complex to simple. The maturing phase of coaching is much like the earliest stage in regards to gathering information. But, this learning phase is all about becoming more efficient with the information that is useful at ‘that’ moment in time, for each situation. Applying a wide range of techniques and methods, and making constructive adjustments to a designed program, and within a specific workout, to best serve your athletes is all part of mastering the art of coaching.

Every coach will have favorite exercises, techniques, and systems. This can be due to several different reasons such as logistics, a coach’s ability to teach certain exercises, equipment availability, or simply that’s it’s a manner of training that “connects” with that particular coach.

This can be beneficial as it gives a program some stability. However, any partiality cannot be allowed to be a blinder to the real objective: getting athletes better in the given sport. An athlete being “better” not only means performing at optimal levels but also being healthier and in lower injury risk.

The stability that preferred components have in a program is invaluable as it provides the foundation to build on. Nevertheless, this stability must not negate the “mobility” of a program to make adjustments and changes as is necessary.

The continued education in the maturing stage is all about “checks & balances” and getting rid of “the clutter” so that the job gets done with the highest level of precision and efficiency. Biases must be checked while even proven preferences are to be balanced.


The Primary Objective is THE Objective

The program design is important, but effective coaching within the program is most important. A major attribute of the mature coach is the “it factor”, which is the acuity to observe each and every training session as an assessment that either confirms what’s working or seeks solutions to what may not be. This includes being able to make minor adjustments while sustaining the foundational principles of the program. This can be for a select few athletes or the team as a whole.

“Addition by subtraction” becomes the reality of a mature coach’s continuing education. The “wide eyes” of a young coach are replaced with a look of the “wise eyes” of constructive questioning, and solution based critique.

In this stage, a coach is adept at coaching in its purest application. This is where coaching is less about teaching exercises, techniques, and methods, and more about coaching athletes in how to train in the most efficient manner possible in the way that transfers to the best on-field product possible.

He/she has matured beyond the need to show how much they know and is secure to use even the most ordinary tool in the box to get the job done with great precision, accuracy, and reliability. Numbers on the wall or a spreadsheet are secondary to the relevant qualities that are transferable to performance in the chosen sport.

In principle– in truth–  the mature strength coach keeps the primary  objective… THE objective.

Vince McConnell – A performance/strength/conditioning coach and personal trainer since 1983, Vince’s professional career has covered over three decades.  Vince uses both scientific evidence and practical experience in working with a clientele that ranges in ages from early childhood to those into their 10th decade.  Though much of Vince’s work has been with collegiate and professional athletes, it is certainly not limited to competitive athletes or experienced fitness enthusiasts as many of McConnell Athletics clients have gotten their very first experience in fitness working with Vince.  Learn more about Vince by visiting  www.mcconnellathletics.com


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