Fitnesswise: Should coaches train along with their athletes?

Let’s explore the complex dynamics of strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches engaging in player training sessions.

Published : Mar 02, 2024 12:12 IST - 5 MINS READ

Team comes first: While training with individual players may suit individual sports, it can be counterproductive within a team. 
Team comes first: While training with individual players may suit individual sports, it can be counterproductive within a team.  | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Team comes first: While training with individual players may suit individual sports, it can be counterproductive within a team.  | Photo Credit: REUTERS

This highly intriguing and subjective topic often sparks debate among S&C coaches, generating a flurry of opinions from the fitness fraternity. There are a few key points to consider when evaluating its pros and cons.

There are high-profile coaches who don’t fancy training with players and others who believe in it too strongly. On a personal level, I have had experience in both ways; therefore, I understand the real crux of the issue.

Initially, I used to train with players once or twice a week, either on the field or in the gym, but subsequently, I trained alone after the players’ session was over.

To maintain a professional approach, I strictly focused on coaching during the week and then trained alone at the gym. This was for two reasons. First, intense training sessions during the week, be it in the gym or on the field, require my full attention to get the form and sequencing right.

Second, weekend training is more like a team-bonding exercise — either on the beach or through a game — that helps in understanding the players’ psyche better.

An often ignored viewpoint is the notion of training along with players because coaches think there are only two possibilities — either the players think you’re a dimwit for showing off or they see how ghastly poor you really are in executing movement patterns.

But this has nothing to do with knowledge or pleasing players, even when some players encourage you to demonstrate for their amusement.

Nevertheless, there are many points to ponder and many styles of coaching to choose from. What fits one coach need not fit another.

Here are some pointers that I think would be pertinent for many S&C coaches, although they may not be universally agreed upon.

Coaches are the least important athletes

It’s necessary to understand that athletes are the first priority, and their performance is of prime importance. When athletes embark on strength and conditioning sessions, the duty of the coach is loud and clear — monitor them and give them feedback. If you fail to do so, you better not be there.

You’re setting an example for your athletes

This can be a great opportunity to show your players what you expect of them and to set standards. Otherwise, your ignorance about the subject matter will be fully exposed, and they will not listen to you.

Players will observe you, and they’ll model their behaviour on your own, consciously or not. If you behave in ways that you tell them not to, then don’t be surprised when they ignore your lessons and pay attention to your bad examples instead.

Know your lifters

Many athletes admire coaches who continue their own training regimen, but don’t mistake this for them wanting you to train alongside them.Make sure that your athletes are comfortable with you training alongside them and have the courtesy to say ‘no’, even if they secretly resent you.

If you need attention as an athlete, train some other time

During your players’ practice time, the focus should necessarily be on them.

If you want to be the centre of attention and expect praise and ego boosts for simply doing your job, you’re totally the wrong candidate for training with your players. You’d be better off with your own cronies to be in that zone of self-affirmation.

Training with one specific player alone

This practice can disrupt the dynamics in a team environment, unless, of course, a player is undergoing rehab or specific improvement programmes designed by the team. Favouritism may creep in, driven by self-serving motives on the coach’s part.

While individual training suits individual sports, it can be counterproductive within a team, creating rifts. It’s important to have a professional approach to this methodology; otherwise, it can be perceived as a self-centred move by other players.

Using abusive language while training

This behaviour is a big no-no. Players may occasionally use harsh language, but that doesn’t mean that coaches should follow suit. There’s nothing fashionable or trend-worthy about this from a coaching perspective. Maintaining dignity, especially during a tough rep or set, will set a positive example for the players.

Keeping the workplace clean

All coaches must adhere to this etiquette. It is essential for them to maintain boundaries post-workout or after each set and keep things where they belong. This reflects the coach’s self-discipline and commitment and serves as a powerful example for players to follow. No player should be too tired to maintain cleanliness after a workout.

Working on the correct form

The most critical aspect of coaching is to lead by example and train players whenever required. One wrong move here can lead to a negative impact, spilling into subsequent sessions, and potentially becoming a setback for the coaches.

To sum it up, if you want to be a superior coach or even just play-act like one, you cannot be focused on your own workout while your players are training. You only get to work out when others aren’t and when you’re not actively coaching someone. There are coaching ethics involved that need to be understood and designed according to the group’s needs.

Ultimately, there will come a day when you have to decide if you’re pretending to be an athlete or a coach. You can be both to some extent, but only one must be the unequivocal priority, and you’ll have to accept the sacrifices in either case. The sooner you can figure this out, the better it is for your success.

‘Always keep an open mind and a compassionate heart’ — Phil Jackson.

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