I've been lucky enough to head up programs with a lot of great coaches in some fantastic environments. There have been philosophical variations with every step, especially in the tennis world. Some tennis programs can be time-capsules of coaching information. You've got to give them a good dust and in some case you'll need a hammer and chisel! Archaic, scientifically debunked thoughts on training, competing, recovery and periodisation can be found at every turn.
Tennis coaches tend to put far too much emphasis on the technical and tactical elements of the game, especially in view of the physical and mental nature of the sport now. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. The best way to update and progress a program is through it's people. My time and resources as a head coach were split between our coaches, athletes, parents, administration and our sports science/sports medicine network. The conduit for much of this for me was our strength and conditioning coach. Here is where I believe S&Cs fit in to the entire team and how they can be maximised.
1. They're working while we're sleeping. Their sessions are typically early mornings and late at nights which means in the middle of their day they're able to research, discuss, and plan much more than your other team members.
2. They create competition. Everything I've ever seen in a gym, on court or in the field from a strength & conditioning coach emphasised competition. Whether it was building toward it, recovering from it, or just getting after it. In sport, particularly developmental sport if you're not competing or learning how to compete, you're losing ground on your future opponents.
3. They emphasize team work and utilize group dynamics. An S&C coach finds a way to get the most out of everyone in every situation. We all know manipulating the strengths and weaknesses of a group in order to get the desired training outcome can be challenging. S&Cs are typically highly experienced in handling those dynamics.
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4. They know your team. Strength and conditioning coaches can get type cast as data driven monkeys but typically they balance what science tells them with what the athlete is telling them. They are the only coaches that spend time with every athlete on your team on a consistent basis in both team and individual situations. They know if the athlete's performance is off just a little and they usually know why.
5. They are educated and multi-skilled. Not necessarily in the formal sense. But they spend time reading, researching and experimenting. They see every athlete in the program and build relationships that aren't just about the sport. In my experience, a person will talk to a strength and conditioning coach as much as a person as they will as athletes. Typically not a selector in team sports, athletes often feel they can open up more to S&C coaches. When I needed a conduit for our sports science and sports medicine system (because they weren't full time and normally aren't), it made perfect sense to me to put our strength and conditioning coach in place as a means of transmitting that information. A good S&C will implement those strategies and communicate effectively with the entire team regarding all physical areas.
6. They think outside the box. They aren't one sport drones. They question and challenge the things we do, "because we've always done them that way", frequently. They help us solidify our thoughts and encourage new ideas and progressive additions to otherwise mundane programs. I had worked with 5 strength and conditioning coaches for almost a decade before I did a practical interview with one that did exercises I hadn't seen on a tennis court. I hired him!
7. They are the bees of sport. I'd love to coach a Super 14 Rugby Team, but that's just not going to happen. However, I've worked with an S&C who spent time with Super 14 teams so I got to draw on and learn from that knowledge. S&C coaches have experience in a wide variety of sports and can draw from that experience in your environment. They pollinate each sporting flower with the knowledge from their coaching history unlike any other coach.
8. They keep us at our best. Ever seen an overweight, weak strength and conditioning coach? Me either. No other coach practices more of what they preach and they expect and encourage the coaches to look after themselves too. Do as they say and as they do.
So respect your S&C and show them some appreciation. When one of our athletes won a National Championship my first request of them was to call our strength and conditioning coach who had such a large impact on this athletes training mindset, physicality and maturity. I know that meant a lot to them.
David Hodge has coached at the junior, US college and professional level and was a Head National Coach for Tennis Australia for 5 years. He enjoyed completing his AWF certification and is currently completing his ASCA level 2. Follow him on twitter @CoachDavidHodge
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