Why you should embrace digital change as a Strength and Conditioning Coach

Posted by Des Earls on 17-Oct-2019 20:53:00
Des Earls
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[5 min read]


“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

– John Wooden




John Wooden is widely considered as one of, if not the, greatest collegiate basketball coaches ever. The ‘Wizard of Westwood’ was a brilliant coach who led the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA titles in 12 years.


He now best is known for his Pyramid of Success which outlines how to be successful, not only in sports but in all aspects of life. Wooden understood that sport, like all of life’s other pursuits, is a microcosm of life. And in life, change is inevitable, unavoidable and more often than not an opportunity for improvement.


Digital change is happening at a furiously fast pace - as is change within the strength and conditioning world. As strength and conditioning grows as a profession so too does our understanding of what’s required to get our athletes into peak physical condition.


Our understanding of technique, workload, nutrition, sleep and how daily life impacts on training performance has reached new heights in recent years through greater access to research and the practices of elite coaches. By embracing digital change, we can harness new technologies to transform our coaching practice and fundamentally change how we operate and deliver value to our athletes.


"By embracing digital change, we can harness new technologies to transform our coaching practice and fundamentally change how we operate and deliver value to our athletes."


As strength and conditioning coaches one of our primary goals is to increase buy-in from our athletes through our programming. We need them to believe that our programs will help them achieve their goals. To do this we must not only develop appropriate training plans, but we must also administer and monitor them in ways that the athlete can engage in.


Many of the athletes we work with now must be considered digital natives. Born in the nineties and noughties they have grown up with digital TV, smartphone apps, iPads and interactive whiteboards. They are more comfortable with smart-tech than they are without it, and it’s easy to comprehend why. People often marvel at how quickly toddlers can pick-up and operate tech, but it's designed to be unbelievably user friendly.


The user experience we get from the tech we use every day is mind blowing considering the intricacies behind it. Most of our athletes could pick up a smart device of any brand or configuration and understand how to use it immediately. The digital technology we use is wonderfully intuitive.


Using digital tools with our athletes is in keeping with their native familiarity and embraces the values they hold of aesthetically pleasing design and hyper-connectivity. We can harness this familiarity and sense of comfort to increase the engagement we have with our athletes. Ultimately, by using digital technologies that they can hold in their pocket we are empowering our athletes to become collaborators in their own training rather than dictated to do exactly as someone says.


"by using digital technologies that they can hold in their pocket we are empowering our athletes to become collaborators in their own training"


Digital change has impacted upon many areas of sports coaching from tactics and video analysis apps to diet tracking apps. We use communication apps to relay instructions about team events and post online questionnaires about post-match recovery. As strength and conditioning coaches we have embraced technology in performance testing with jump mats, velocity based training and linear position transducers all being used to test outputs.


However, these are all tools for when we are with athletes. What about when we are not? By using online training software, we can streamline communication between the coach and athlete, particularly regarding training programs and training output.


Tracking load management has become an integral part of a strength and conditioning coach’s role with athletes. By monitoring load management, we can track an athlete’s progress and hopefully pick up any red flags before they turn into injuries or dips in performance. For example, if an athlete is programmed to hit 3 reps at 90% of their 1RM but only manages 1 rep this may be an indication that the athlete had some underlying fatigue going into the session.


If the athlete is consistently not hitting targets, then it might be a sign of over-reaching. Setting loads has always been relatively straight forward for strength and conditioning coaches by calculating total load of a session or setting RPE. But this does not tell us how the athlete felt or performed. Only the athlete can tell us this but how do they communicate this?


They may be training in remote locations or fitting in sessions wherever they can in their busy lives so we’re not always on hand to ask “how’s it all going”. But we can embrace developments in digital communication to bridge this gap. Through effective digitally mediated communication we can monitor training more effectively improve overall performance. The ease at which online training software allows us to monitor training should be evident to all strength and conditioning coaches.


Traditionally strength and conditioning coaches have worked on what could be described as linear models of change. We read a book or article or attend and conference and decide to change one or two aspects of our coaching practice. This is a valuable approach to take to developing your coaching skills and is certainly not something that we should stop doing. However, when it comes to our organisational practice, we need to develop much quicker and often not in a linear fashion. We need to be much more agile in our systems. Digital technologies will allow us to do this.


If we think of how a simple digital tool like email has transformed how we organise our coaching. It has revolutionised the speed, accuracy and ease at which we communicate with athletes, fellow coaches and other key stakeholders. But it is still not perfect, we often still struggle to convey mood or context over text so most coaches now use WhatsApp where emojis are accepted practice and can better communicate what we are trying to get across. If we stuck with what we started out with most of us would be communicating to athletes through postal mail, but we didn’t, and communication channels are clearer than ever and will continue to improve.


Strength and Conditioning coaches have embraced change since the field first began to develop. We continue to do this with our own coaching practice by continuously striving to get better. In doing so we also need to be cognisant of the people we work with and what they value and respond to.


We can take our intrepid spirit as pioneers in a developing field and apply it to digital change to help transform our coaching and organisational practice and fully engage with our clients. Digital change is inevitable and should be embraced by all coaches but that doesn’t mean the simple truths of success have changed – “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur” – John Wooden.


When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur

– John Wooden




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Topics: Monitoring, Coaching tools, Coaching, Programming, S&C