James Smith and anyone else-some advice please?

Hello all,

These questions are for anyone and any advice is much appreciated but they are directed at James Smith. James, I’m sorry to bother you but if possible it would be great if I could get some advice from you since I have been reading your posts on a few websites for some time now and really appreciate the depth of your responses.

Firstly, just to explain my background briefly: I’m 19 and from the UK. I’m currently at University studying economics and I am absolutely fascinated with anything relating to sports science/methodology and am trying hard to study material by some brilliant minds in sports such as Verkhoshansky, Kurz, Drabik, Francis, Jamieson, Issurin, Zatsiorsky, Astrand and many others. Initially, when I started at University I was quite worried as obviously economics has nothing to do with physical preparation; however after reading your thoughts on Univeristy sport sciences courses it put me at ease.

I would love to become a physical preparation coach in a power/speed discipline someday but I have a few concerns which I was hoping you could help with with. Firstly, I am not currently training in a specific sport although I train myself and I worry that no sporting team/organization would take me seriously because of this. Do you think there are many people who coach a discipline which they haven’t themselves competed in? Secondly, I don’t think there are many good certification courses that exist so I was wondering if you know of any good organizations? UKAthletics seems to have some very smart individuals such as Pfaff and Henk Kraaijenhof.

I am trying hard to collect my thoughts with regards to the training of athletes. I think I have decided who I want to study, but it doesn’t seem there are many coaches over here in the UK who are familiar with names such as Verkhoshansky, Francis, Nasedkin etc. Does anyone know of any coaches in the UK that are heavily influenced by these names?

Sorry for all the questions, I don’t have any experience working in this field so any advice from those that are more experienced is muc appreciated.

Many thanks,
Rob Bennett.

Hi Rob

Your intentions are very much like mine were 2 years ago. Here are some of my thoughts:

One of the key things to consider is do you intend to make a living as a coach?

There seem to be two routes in the UK which could lead to you coaching power/speed athletes. One is the strength and conditioning route and one is athletics route.

The S&C route would be best if you wished to work in rugby or other power/speed sports outside of athletics (I’m struggling to think of any in UK). To get a paid job as a S&C coach you would need UKSCA certification and a reasonable amount of experience-job descriptions on UK Sport/UKSCA websites generally state around 3 years experience working with athletes (they often state with athletes of national teams). Sports science degrees are also normally requested. Ticking these boxes would give you a shot at an assistant role with UK Sport or EIS. Then there are professional football/rugby teams and a very small number of private institutions which would have similar requirements. Consider you may have to spend time working under coaches with dissimilar methodologies and in sports distant from your long term ambition before it becomes realistic that you may tick the boxes to apply for your preferred job. Some unpaid internships are available-but I imagine like me you would want to learn under a coach whose methods you are familiar with. Like you I don’t know of any UK coaches who take a comprehensive approach to physical preparation in power/speed disciplines similar to the likes of James Smith, Landon Evans, Tom Myslinski etc-I would be interested to hear of any who do.

The vast majority of athletics coaches are voluntary. There does not seem to be a structured pathway in to paid employment. In this situation it may be that coaching is a side to another job. This may or may not be of significance depending your answer to my first question. Check the UKA website for details of the coaching qualifications and what you may expect from them. The availability of practical coaching information seems to be much improved since Kevin Tyler came on board. Depending on your location you may be able to ally yourself with a good senior coach.

In rugby many of the S&C coaches are former players. Whether this is because as former players they had connections within the organisation, or because their employers felt it important to be a former player to understand the demands, I don’t know, though I suspect the former. Contacts will get you far.

In athletics I get the impression being a former athlete is less important. There are arguments both ways. Charlie wrote how he found it harder to coach Ben as he began running faster than he had, as he didn’t how to convey how it should feel. However, having not competed in a sport may also mean you have no emotional ties to any particular training methods and may remain more objective. The main thing that will speak in your favour is results. If you are producing good athletes no one will care about your own competitive record.

I would recommend you start working with athletes as soon as possible, in order to develop your coaching style and learn the practicalities you simply can’t from reading textbooks.

Speaking personally, I have struggled to see where I fit as a coach wanting to deliver a comprehensive physical preparation program in a full time capacity and not just be a proponent of general strength training. Combined with the realities of the lack of job security and opportunities in my areas of interest, this has me considering it may be a hobby more than a career path.

Hope that is of use.

My suggestion is for you to take the steps necessary to pursue being an athletics coach in a capacity that would allow you to have full autonomy of every aspect of sport preparation.

Unless you go to certain places in Eastern Europe, Russia, China, Australia, certain South American countries, etcetera you will be hard pressed to find a technical-tactical coach who has the slightest understanding of sport physiology.

I cannot in good conscience recommend the physical preparation route to anyone with a high sport training aptitude because it places you low on the hierarchical totem pole and presents you relatively little complex problem solving challenges other than how to solve the problem of the uninformed sport coaches methods of regulating the technical-tactical loading.

Now, if you recognize that your ability to solve complex sport training problems is not high (ergo you find yourself banging your head against the wall when you read or listen to the work of individuals who you hold in high regard) than by all means, pursue physical preparation.

I state this not to infer that physical preparation coaches lack intelligence; but rather, to elucidate the fact that you simply don’t have to have the great a skill set to be a fantastic physical preparation coach.

I realized this over the last number of years when I eventually found myself completely unstimulated by the job.

My interests lie in the concept of program manager in which the entire sport program is under my direction; a position which, for all intents and purposes, has yet to exist in CONUS.

Interesting you mention that. I know of a few people that were at big institutions and felt the same way. One person was at Mich. State and left for the same reason. This person started a small business and is much happier and making a bit more money too…

Have you seen a “program manager” type position outside of the US? Not an actual job posting but rather what type of job is similar to this?

Yes, I have been in communication with more than one organization overseas regarding this topic. I’m not prepared to divulge any specifics/names; however, know that certain sport organizations already operate with such individuals in place and there are a couple in CONUS that have expressed interest in creating the position as well.

AJP and James,

Sorry for the reply delay, I just want to say thanks for your replies. Some valuable information right there and I will try to act on it.