Path to High Performance: Part 3

The first article, Path to High Performance: Part 1, provided a discussion about Technical Mastery and the paramount need for good quality coaching to avoid developing persistent errors of technique. This second article, Path to High Performance: Part 2,  discussed the magnitude of the training regimen required to achieve the superb physical adaptation of athletes who compete at the highest level.

This third article discusses the LIMITATIONS OF THE TRAINING ENVIRONMENT, a challenge faced by athletes, and one that is very difficult to overcome.

The progress of any athlete is subject to the attributes of their training environment including coaching, facilities and equipment, level of competition, training culture and support services. No training environment is perfect and therefore there will always be some limitations that impact on the athlete’s progress.

There are no universally accepted benchmarks that enable coaches and athletes to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the training environment in which they operate. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, coaches and athletes will tend to view their own training environments positively and see no reason for change. Such a view presents no problem when the object of training is for fitness, fun, friendly competition and/or socialisation. However, if High Performance is the goal, then close attention has to be paid to ensuring that all attributes of the training environment are as good as they can be.

The most important factors that contribute to success are the quality of coaching and the training culture within the gym. Training culture can best be described by giving good and bad examples. A good culture for High Performance training is one in which athletes train with a high level of discipline and motivation. Athletes train very purposefully, maintain a high work rate, challenge each other to achieve, act cohesively as a team, rarely miss training sessions and distractions to training are not tolerated. In a good training culture there is also strong direction from the coach in the manner in which training is performed and athletes have programs that have been fine tuned to their individual needs.

A poor culture for High Performance training is one in which there is idleness and a lack of productivity, endless social discussions that lengthen the interval between sets, a lack of direction in the manner in which training is performed and athletes find excuses to frequently miss sessions.

It is, of course, coaches who establish the culture of the training environment. In situations where a coach has sprung from the very same environment in which they now operate, it is easy for poor training practices to perpetuate. The majority of athletes will have a tendency to believe that their own training environment is good and will have no knowledge of how training culture may be different in other places. This problem is compounded when other training establishments in the region appear to be similar.

For this reason, coach education systems need to provide knowledge about High Performance training at higher coach accreditation levels. Without knowledge of training systems in other places, a coach will have difficulty in developing the right settings for High Performance training.

Apart from instilling good training practices, a High Performance coach needs to be highly knowledgeable in the preparation of athletes for competition. This knowledge includes skill development processes, periodisation of training, optimisation of athlete training loads, injury prevention and rehabilitation, and the management of athletes who often display quirky personalities.

It is very unlikely that any athlete will be fortuitous to have a perfect coach from the moment they start. It is the natural order of things that athletes must be afforded the opportunity for guidance from coaches of specialist ability as they move higher in ranking. Coaching at the highest level is more of a team effort rather than the result of the endeavours of a single coach. Some coaches may be best at setting the overall parameters of training, while other coaches have specialist talent in technical preparation or psychological development. It is an injustice to the athlete for any coach to assume they have all the answers or try to keep an athlete for themselves only.

In addition to culture and the quality of coaching, the space, layout and equipment of the training facility itself will also be a help or a hindrance to High Performance training. A lack of space may limit the amount of work done on warm-up, flexibility, plyometrics, remedial exercises and cross-training. A space congested with training platforms is also a safety risk. Ideally platforms should be spaced 1.5 meters apart. The layout of the training space needs to be suitable for athletes who will spend a considerable proportion of their time there. The layout should include seating for all athletes, an area for massage, water fountain, ventilation in hot/humid climates, heating in cold climates, priority platforms, and a clock with a highly visible second hand. A 4mx4m platform for competitions is also worthy inclusion.

In addition to quality bars and weights, the High Performance training environment would include blocks of various heights, racks for overhead work, and apparatus for additional back hyperextensions, arm/shoulder and abdominal strength.