Guest Post: Reflections on a Successful S&C Career (2)

There are many reasons you should listen to what Justin Keogh says but our favourite is: he combines his academic qualifications with the ability to compete in Strongman events at the age of 40! In other words, he can talk the talk AND walk the walk. This is Part 2 (find Part 1 here).

6.     Importance of biomechanics, motor learning and sports psychology

During your studies at university and even other courses like the ASCA Level I and II, you will often focus on disciplines such as applied anatomy, exercise physiology and exercise prescription as they are often viewed as the most important areas of understanding for a strength and conditioning coach.

While I may be biased in this point as I teach biomechanics, motor control and motor learning at Bond University, I feel that these three areas are just as important.

Biomechanics allows you to better understand the causes of efficient human movement and injuries, assess movement proficiency and develop more specific exercises to meet the demands of your athletes.

MORE: An Open Letter to Athletes wanting to become Coaches

It also allows you to better understand and develop resistance training progressions for your athletes, to accommodate differences in your athletes’ range of motion and anthropometric profile and to understand how variations in body positions at different parts of the range of motion will impact upon the joint and muscle loads, and hence the likely positive adaptations and injury risk.

Motor learning and control provide you with a framework for understanding how the human body controls its infinite complexity and how best to develop training sessions and instructional approaches that best allow athletes to learn and improve their movement capabilities.

For too long, some strength and conditioning coaches have believed that as long as our athletes get stronger and more powerful in the gym or gain a higher VO2peak score, that we have done our job.

However, I feel much of the improvements our field can offer high performance sport over the next decade or two will come about through applications of biomechanics, motor control and learning principles which assist our athletes move better in the gym, training track and on the field, better execute key skills under pressure and make better decisions under pressure in the training and game situation.

An understanding of the constraints-led approach of dynamical systems as well as teaching games for understanding would be a great place to start here.  An understanding of these principles will allow you to better incorporate technical, tactical and conditioning challenges into small-side games, which by virtue of their similarities to the actual game, allow better learning to occur and better buy-in by the players.

These approaches also have many applications within the gym and in determining the assessments you have your players perform.

 7.     How to actually instruct

The motor control and learning theories of constraints-led approach of dynamical systems and teaching games for understanding both offer much in how to develop your exercise programs and sessions.

Gentiles taxonomy as well terms including blocked vs random practice, massed vs distributed practice and whole vs part practice are also important concepts to understand in this regard.

However, great strength and conditioning coaches impart more than just their program of exercises, set and reps.  They need to be experts in how to develop their athletes learning abilities.

MORE: For Athletes Only

While some may still see this as an instruction process whereby the coaching staff tells the players what to do in a prescriptive A, followed by B and then C fashion, current motor learning research indicates that this prescriptive style is not optimal as such instruction and feedback is not normally available during the competitive event.

As such, great strength and conditioning coaches apply the most important motor learning techniques.  This means they need to understand concepts including demonstration and instruction, cues and augmented feedback, internal vs external focus of attention, implicit vs explicit learning to facilitate better utilisation of intrinsic feedback and develop a self-directed athlete.

If many of these terms don’t many anything to you or if you can’t apply them to the field of strength and conditioning, I suggest you do more reading in this area.

 8.     Develop processes and a rationale for what you do

Regardless of the industry with which you wish to enter, you must have a series of processes and a rationale for what you do.

From an academic perspective, many of the motor control and learning concepts I have mentioned are a great place to start.

You also need to consider athlete readiness, so approaches such as the Movement Competency Screen or the Functional Movement Screen would also be great to understand and utilise in your exercise prescription for each athlete.

MORE: Questioning Coaching Heuristics

You will also be continually exposed to a wide variety of training, recovery and dietary approaches in your career.

Seek out these learning opportunities, but again stay critical to these approaches and use science to help you determine the useful from the useless or dangerous.

Make sure you continue to focus on the big picture details before spending too much time on the “nice to do” things.  As an example, if your male power athletes aren’t repping out sets of squats with weights well in excess of bodyweight, I wouldn’t worry about too much “specific” work as they have yet to develop their strength base adequately.

9.     Use Youtube

In my primary job as an exercise and sport scientist at Bond University, my main teaching involves biomechanics, motor control and learning.

As these make up the human movement disciplines of sports science, I am constantly looking for new videos to assist my students with their learning.  I find many of these on Youtube.

Further, as a strongman competitor, I am also often checking Youtube to see footage of strongman competitions or training sessions to get an idea on how to perform certain new events or ways to simulate events if I don’t have access to specialised equipment.

MORE: The Silent Evidence

When I was working part-time as a strength and conditioning coach with New Zealand Golf and Paralympics, I also made a habit of reviewing Youtube semi-frequently to assist me in my work with these athletes.

I have also started to use video clips from a range of well-known or anonymous strength and conditioning coaches / personal trainers who are instructing clients on an exercise.

These clips help you develop a critical eye for better understanding what constitutes a good vs not so good instructional approach, and what aspects of the instruction could be improved.

In turn, you can then work on incorporating these good aspects and removing the bad aspects from your strength and conditioning practice.

10.     Networking

As I suggested before, networking is vital as there are so many students coming through our universities and ASCA courses that you need to do everything to better your chances.  A large part of this is developing relationships with key stakeholders in this industry.

I use a variety of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and ResearchGate, as they all offer me something useful.

To you, they will keep you abreast of new employment opportunities, educational opportunities etc.   Regardless of what these social media options allow, also make it a priority to develop real relationships with these influential people.

I hope this reflective piece may be of assistance to you in your career as a strength and conditioning coach.  Feel free to drop me a line.

Justin Keogh is an Associate Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at Bond University and has adjunct appointments with Auckland University of Technology and the University of the Sunshine Coast.  At the ripe old age of 40, he still competes in strongman competitions. Follow him on Twitter @DrStrength4Life



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