Strengths & Weaknesses

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‘You’ve never turned someone’s weakness into their strength!’, those were the words from Dr Sophia Nimphius at the recent ASCA Conference held in Melbourne earlier this month. It was in reference to a question regarding how much emphasis should a coach place on improving their athlete’s weakness; in this specific example, Change of Direction ability.

It is 100% accurate. In team sports, athletes are usually selected in the first team for their ability to do ONE (maybe two) things exceptionally well. Not many athletes who play a huge chunk of game time are out there for their ability to do everything average; I’m sure there are some though. In individual sports, a series of skills and physiological qualities displayed by the athlete will determine the outcome of the event, however very rarely is the athlete strong in ALL areas.

So where do we place our focus throughout the training year? Common sense says we work on our weaknesses in the off-season/pre-season period, as this is the furthest time from the pointy end of the season. And if we don’t improve them at this time; will we have addressed the issue? However, others would suggest you look to work on both aspects concurrently; make your strength STRONGER, and improve your abilities in your weaker areas throughout the training year. This is generally my line of thinking.

If you neglect developing your strength at the expense of addressing your weakness, you may have made yourself a less valuable asset to your coach. Your coach is relying on you to do this ONE aspect of the game extremely well; not to do something else just a little bit better.

At the start of the season, profile each of your athletes and determine both their strengths and weaknesses. Train the athlete accordingly. Generally, athletes’ will enjoy training their strength much more than their weakness; this doesn’t mean you let them have it all their own way.

BUT, in the end, their strength is why you are coaching them and why they excel… Remember that.

Minimal Effective Dose

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This is a concept that has been around quite a while but of recent times gathered more steam on social media. Minimal Effective Dose (MED) refers to giving the athlete the smallest training dose (or stimulus) to elicit the desired performance or outcome. But how do we know what the MED is for each athlete? Like all training methods… we don’t! It is a guess; yet one which experienced coaches will have a better grasp on than developing coaches. It is also intertwined with the Art of Coaching and knowing what the individual athlete NEEDS, and what is going to tip them over the edge.

With developing athletes, MORE training will likely deliver more impressive results; however, at what cost over time. Once coaches drive up the training load for young athletes, you can not only interfere with the overall athletic development process but you can ‘break’ a few along the way. However, a recent study by Tim Gabbett (here) suggests that completely stripping back the workload is not the answer either. The concept of Acute:Chronic training load is one which is being utilized and endorsed across a range of sports, which demonstrates a way to monitor both under-training and over-training.

The Minimal Effective Dose has merit. Why do 10 sessions per week, when you can get the same result with 7? Why run 150 miles a week, when you can get the same performance outcome with 120 miles? The role of the coach is to work with each individual athlete and SLOWLY over time, determine when and how much to push the athlete to deliver the result… Due to past experiences and successes, both the athlete and coach will have confirmation biases about what will lead to the outcome.

Working out what should be the Minimal Effective Dose is the hardest part… Good luck!