Coaching Athletes For Sports Fitness Mastery

A lot of fitness and training concepts can be complex. They have a lot of moving parts and a lot of things that can go wrong or be performed inefficiently, ineffectively or incorrectly. This is very true of strength and conditioning and speed and agility as it relates to sports fitness.

As a coach, your job is to introduce the athlete to new activities while reinforcing the techniques of ones they’ve already learned. Then, you help them learn how to do the new things well, and the cycle starts all over.

In other words, a strength and conditioning coach or sports fitness coach’s job is to foster mastery. Mastery of movement and mastery of layering or combining those movements to improve sports performance.

To that end, it’s always best to take a complex activity and break it down into its’ component parts. Teach the parts in order from simplest to master to hardest. When your athletes master one or more parts, you can move on to the next one.

Should you move on to something more complex if your athlete hasn’t mastered a movement one hundred percent? The answer is, as it so often is in fitness, “it depends.”

If moving on to something else will complicate the mastery of what came before, or prevent the athlete from really grasping the previous skill, then no, you shouldn’t. But if your athlete can move on to the next activity without losing the relative mastery progress already made, and that athlete understands that mastery hasn’t been met and that you’ll need to return to the thing not yet mastered, then it may be fine to move on.

The bottom line here is this. Don’t over-complicate things for your athletes.

There is no benefit to trying to get an athlete to grasp multiple concepts at once, especially if you’re not totally sure they understand the basics of what is involved.

In the video, this coach is laying out a band-resisted speed drill for some basketball athletes. He is clearly defining the expectations of the drill. What to do, what not to do, what to focus on and what not to focus on.

There is room in this drill for those who haven’t mastered some of its’ precursors. For example, some athletes haven’t mastered moderate speed movement with band-resistance. That’s fine. This particular activity is fairly intuitive and reflexive.

That means that even athletes who’ve never done it before will begin to “feel” the way it should be done fairly quickly and with minimal cuing and intervention from the coach. For a drill like this, the ideal would be an athlete who’s done band-resisted shuffling, skipping and some sprint work. Not all in this group had that experience.

So the coach lays out clearly not only what he wants the athletes to do, but how it should feel and what the intent is. One important point is that he isn’t “over-coaching” the athletes. When that happens, athletes are less likely to really attack an activity out of fear of failure or error.

In a group training setting don’t be afraid to introduce a slightly more complex or challenging activity than you think the least advanced athlete in the room can handle. Try following these guidelines:

1. Set the activity up in such a way as to encourage the reflexive and intuitive aspects of it. Put your athletes in a position to feel how the activity should feel when executed properly (within tolerance or range of precision.)

2. Minimize the opportunity for things to go wrong as much as possible without stifling the potential for development and mastery.

3. Give clear instruction and spell out your expectations for the activity and for the athletes.

Then, give your athletes the space to explore the activity and make it their own. If you set them up to learn, develop and master technique, you’ll find they will work hard to achieve that mastery.

In other words, set them up to win!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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