The Technique Paradox

In a previous blog I wrote about the importance of being coached good technique. An obvious counter to my argument is that some people do very well with little or no technique coaching and some do very well with little or no technique – or at least no technique that most coaches would advocate.

These people have found their own way that works and, though it’s possible that they might have been even better with textbook technique, it’s difficult to justify trying to change a winning formula.

Most people don’t start their sport with excellent coaching. Even those that do rarely get individual coaching until they’re already doing well and standing out. And that’s normally because they’re the ones who are working it out for themselves.  Kids who don’t work a sport out for themselves pretty early on are likely to get disillusioned and give up pretty quickly.  We’ll come back to them later.

Coaching good technique to children is a real challenge.  They don’t often do things just right first time and, as they’re typically in a group environment, it’s difficult to give them one-to-one attention.

Good coaches create challenges, games and exercises to stimulate thought processes and movement patterns.  Kids fortunate enough to be well coached don’t necessarily know it at the time: they’re just having fun. But the things that they’re working out for themselves are more relevant and more useful.   There’s nothing new in this, but the latest buzzwords for describing this type of coaching are ‘constraint led’ and ‘guided discovery’.

But even learning good technique as a child, under the guidance of good coaches, doesn’t necessarily mean that you actually know either much about it or how to coach it yourself. Good athletes often make poor technical coaches because they don’t know how they learned their technique. They just did their sessions and worked hard. So that’s what they assume will work for others

Most coaching in swimming, running and cycling is based on the model of giving exercises to groups of children, seeing which of the children stick with it, and then making them fitter and stronger.

The emergence of triathlon has highlighted the weaknesses of this aspect of coaching.  Triathlon started as a sport for adults – an endurance test between people who were game enough to have a go at sports other than their own.  As triathletes became more serious and sought coaching the coaches who got involved were the people who coached marathon runners and cyclists – endurance coaches: People who set training programmes.

As the sport grew in popularity, and became more competitive, adults who came into it started to realise that they needed more than training programmes – most often they needed to learn how to swim.   Not ‘how to swim’, they could do that, but ‘how to swim’ – like the kids who worked it out for themselves in the first paragraph and spent the next five years banging out 4km before breakfast five days a week.

However the swim coaching community typically couldn’t really help them.  The stuff that it did with kids didn’t work on adults (especially those who hadn’t worked it out for themselves the first time round) and the stuff that it did with its experienced swimmers was mostly physiology and psychology.

My introduction to triathlon coaching was with someone who could already swim but needed to run much faster.  And the situation was much the same:  All of the material and information that we could find on running coaching was physiological – and we didn’t need that.

Today it’s not just adults who take up triathlon.  Kids are coming in who’ve worked out one or two of the disciplines pretty well, but need a bit more help to work out all three.

That old coaching model doesn’t work for triathlon.  Triathletes don’t get disillusioned quite so quickly. They don’t give up. They need coaches who really understand how to coach technique.

1 thought on “The Technique Paradox

  1. Thanks Tim, thought provoking stuff. Will check out the rest of your blog for helpful advice on coaching tips

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