Periodize your learning
Podcasts, books, lectures, presentations, seminars, journal articles. Technique, periodization, staff management, athlete management, methods, systems. These are just the beginning of what coaches need to know to continue and excel in strength and conditioning. Juggling these can leave you as a coach paralyzed in making decisions, or feeling as if you’re not doing enough to support our athletes, or that you’re not keeping up with the Jones’. Also, focusing on developing all professional qualities simultaneously will limit the overall development of all of them. This is like trying to peak speed, hypertrophy, maximum strength, conditioning, mobility, etc all together, all the time. Instead, to be an effective coach, you need to learn to periodize your professional development, just like you periodize your athlete’s development.
Periodization is generally understood as the planning of training units to maximize the development of athletic potential. Therefore, it can be reconstructed to maximize the development of a coaches’ ability. Having a purely linear approach to professional development wouldn’t be effective if you tried to learn all your art and science pieces of coaching in a part of the year where you’re planning training, followed by focusing on managerial skills, and then building entrepreneurial skills after that. Instead, a concurrent approach, will keep be more effective.
Using my calendar as an example, I have three periods during a year that influence what and how much I’m learning. The fall is a time where almost all my teams are in-season, and therefore the volume of training is medium, and the goal is keeping it basic and effective. During the winter, most of my teams are in the off-season, so the volume and intensity of my coaching is very high. Finally, during the summer, only a small number of my athletes are with me at school, so my volume and intensity are low.
During my winter, where coaching volume and intensity are high, I aim to ‘maintain’ my knowledge on the science of strength and conditioning. Although it is stimulating to read every article and blog possible, I find myself overwhelmed by information, and unable to act on it. Getting on the phone and talking to coaches is generally out of the question, since most of my peers are deep into their training as well. Instead, I direct more of my learning time to podcasts, blogs, or short videos that focus on some of the logistics of my sessions.
A primary aim is learning new techniques or coaching cues that can help me in my current sessions, connect with my athletes, and reframe what I’m coaching. A second aim is listening to business, management podcasts or audio books, since much of the success of my session has to do with managing my staff and teams. An example would be a book like the “One minute manager” that reinforces the importance of quick verbal corrections with staff when they veer from the plan, or quick corrections with athletes. The final aim, which should make up half of my learning pie would be general interest or improvement books that can stimulate the right side (or creative side) of my brain. I’m already busy with my coaching sessions, so I want to make sure what I’m listening to keeps my daily habits efficient, or gives my brain information that can work in the background and create new ideas down the road.
During the summer, my programs have been sent home to my athletes, and programming is finished until they’re back on campus. This is the time of the year where I can dive into methods, materials, heavy texts that are popular in the field. I’ll devote most of my professional development to learning, but also playing with new ideas, and then find a way to implement these new tools into my upcoming years planning. An example of this from 2016 was learning about maximal aerobic speed training from Dan Baker, during my summer onsite at St. Mary’s. The concept clicked right away for me, since it gave me a way of modifying load and intensity of aerobic work, as well as personalizing it for individual athletes in group settings. Had I attempted to dive into the material during a season, it wouldn’t have gone smoothly, and could have lost my athletes faith in the process. During the summer with smaller groups of athletes, it allows me to try it on a smaller number of test subjects, to iron everything out. I will still listen or read to books and topics on management, but it won’t be my main aim. I will strategize for the upcoming year, by connecting with other coaches around the country, to help develop better operating procedures. It’s important not to take on too much during these months, as I should be de-loading in preparation of my next phase: fall season.
During the fall, most of my teams are in-season, so training is a bit blander. With some athletes, I can integrate in some of my new knowledge or techniques, operations, and skills. This part is my most balanced period where I have a similar amount of coaching, leading, and business. I’ll listen to a variety of topics, keep on top of current literature, and maintain relationships with coaches and colleagues. More of my time will be preparing for the busy winter, to be successful.
The more you learn, the more realize that you don’t know. This is the trap we fall into. We as coaches need to start planning how deep we should divide our knowledge at certain points of the year so we aren’t in too deep at the wrong time. By having a balanced approach, it will keep you sane, productive, and effective.