The Limiting Factors In Coaching


Wayne Goldsmith and Bill Sweetenham

Talk to a sports scientist about the limiting factors in sports performance and you get phrases like "maximum volume oxygen uptake," "genetically determined muscle fibre type distribution," and "reductions in mitochondrial volume density."

Talk to an administrator about the limiting factors in sports performance and you get "balance sheets," "long-term economic forecast," "budgetary necessities," "current economic rationale," and "financial policy restraints."

Talk to a coach, an average coach, a coach who works with athletes in any club in any town, about the limiting factors in sports performance and you get a very different perspective. A practising coach's idea of limitations may include:

  1. Difficulties with club and sports administration. In every sport, there is an established group of people who run the sport. Often the volunteer nature of their involvement means they may be passionate about the sport but may lack important and necessary professional sports administration skills. Boards and committees are rarely held accountable for athlete performances yet can often have a decided effect on the ultimate performance of the team through their decisions and allocation of resources.
  2. Difficulties with fund raising. Finding money to get athletes to competitions is a headache for most coaches.
  3. Working with parents of athletes. Parents can make or break club programs. They can be enthusiastic supporters of the coach or divisive elements that make the coach's job more difficult.
  4. Motivating young athletes to commit to the program.
  5. Having athletes in their late teens retire for school commitments. School and education are important to the development of any young athlete. However, the need for a balanced lifestyle of regular physical activity, sensible nutrition, and academic excellence may, in the long term, also prove just as important.
  6. Losing athletes to other sports in their middle and late teens.
  7. Finding time to do all the things that are needed to coach effectively while holding down a full-time job.
  8. Finding time to coach, work full time, and still have the opportunity to look after their own health, spend time with family, enjoy a social life, read for enjoyment, etc.
  9. Keeping up to date with changes in sports science, technology, rule changes, doping policy, etc.
  10. Developing training programs that are varied, challenging, and stimulating.
  11. Economic survival, a key to the high-performance coach's opportunity for success as it will allow the coach the time and flexibility to coach full time.
  12. Contending with the pressures of society on the attitude of the coach and athlete.
  13. Finding affordable and accessible training space.
  14. Finding time to fully develop all technical aspects of the sport.
  15. Identifying and retaining talented athletes

The question arises that if these issues are the ones commonly identified by coaches as performance limiting, i.e., limiting their own performance, why do we persist with coach education programs that are based predominantly on sports science?

While sports science and technological advancements in equipment have made an enormous impact on elite sport, for the average club coach the reality is working with large numbers of non-elite and young athletes where an effective sports science program is at least difficult to implement. As only a small percentage of coaches work with elite athletes, and even fewer enjoy the luxury of working in an Academy or Institute program with an effective support team, advanced sports science is for most coaches a luxury they can't afford.

The coach education manuals and resource materials of many sports have been written mostly by sports scientists who have experience with the elite level of the sport, such as national team staff, Academy and Institute staff, or academics with post-graduate research in the sport. In other words, most coach education resources are generally written by sports scientists, with little or no coaching experience, who work with less than one percent of the athletes in the sport and even then only the most talented athletes for less than one percent of their preparation. How would one design a coaching course that covers the real practical issues in coaching for the majority of coaches?

Wayne Smith and Bill Sweetenham coach in Australia.