The Trouble with Superheroes

Exercise, Training, Consistency, Everyday, Movement

Who wants to be “super”? Who doesn’t?

Full disclosure time: I read comic books. I watch TV shows and movies about superheroes. I enjoy that tremendously. I also read “real” books, some that aren’t science-fiction or fantasy, or even about fitness and health. I also watch other types of movies (but watch very little TV in general).

This topic is coming about through serendipity: On the one hand, I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit since visiting the JFK Museum a year ago, where I was struck by the Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy initiative for health and fitness back in the 1960s. On the other hand, I’m currently enrolled in a course on edX called The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture.

Yes, I also take courses from time to time. Also, the latest Avengers movie recently came out. And they were my favorite superheroes when I was a kid. That’s quite enough disclosure for now.

It’s a simple, fairly well known observation that comic books and stories about superheroes are a great form of escapism. Not just for kids. They are fun distractions from the daily grind. They manage to make us dream a little. We sure need that once in a while.

In some cases, they inspire us to accomplish much. Many have pursued dreams of becoming athletes, scientists, journalists, doctors, soldiers, and other occupations (though probably never lawyers and politicians) based on the stories they read in comic books as children.

And that’s great.

Or is it?

Yes, actually, it is. Being inspired like that is a good thing. That’s one of the prime benefits of fiction. But not everyone reacts the same way, both consciously and sub-consciously, to fiction. Especially to fiction about, or featuring, superheroes.

Allow me to explain.

Becoming a Superhero

Here’s where I think there is a problem with superheroes in particular, and the stories, be they in comic books, on the television, or on the big screen, that feature them: There’s always a secret sauce, a previously unknown causation device (known as a “ghost in the machine” in the jargon) that comes from outside the characters and without which there is simply no story.

In the case of superheroes, the main such plot device is about how they became “super.” It is a pernicious plot device because, no matter how much one tries, no matter how much effort one puts into preparing, the outcome is, ultimately, up to chance alone. But how often do normal folks acquire special abilities as a result of an accident? (Answer: Never. On the contrary. And too many have tried, so don’t.)

Stories, Training, Exercise

Inspiration, but also sub-conscious lessons.

I dare you to find a single superhero character that did not become “super” by some freak accident (of birth, of being bitten by something, of having something radioactive spilled on him or her, etc.) or that does not benefit from being extremely rich (typically by birthright) or extremely intelligent (innate trait). Or a combination thereof.

Basically, I dare you to find a (major) superhero that became that way through long years of training, without any money, just barely making do with minimal support and resources.

No, Batman does not count: Yes, he trained hard and for many years, or so the story goes, but he’s super-rich, and can afford lots of cool gadgets which he did not have to invent. Similarly for Green Arrow. Ironman is a combination of super-smart and super-rich, without any effort. Etc. You get the gist.

And those who were born on Krypton or elsewhere, or were given powers by mysterious extra-terrestrial entities, etc., simply abound in the same direction.

Let’s face it, the message superheroes propagate is that one does not train to become super; it is simply something that happens to you. Or that you are born into.

Which begs the question:

If I’m not super (or fit, or an athlete, or really really smart already), why should I bother work at it? Why should I train my body or my mind to become better? Might as well just drink beer and watch football on TV… – Anonymous

Superpowers, not Supertraining

In fact, I think I noticed a troubling trend that amplifies what I’m talking about.

Even when the story talks about training, it if often after one becomes a superhero. As maintenance. And when the story relates the training that took place before becoming a superhero, it used to be (in comic books) that it took a really long time (e.g. Batman again); but now, in TV and films, it seems mere months, when not just weeks, of training will turn someone of no skill (and precious little fitness) into a tough crime-fighting vigilante (e.g. TV series The Arrow).

Take another example of the same thing, but from another realm of fiction, and quite similar: In the Star Wars series, we are made to think it takes training from childhood to become a Jedi as an adult. Yet Luke Skywalker is able to achieve it with a few months of discovering his powers (the Force, in this case) and at most a few days of training with Yoda.

No wonder consistency, long practice, and the respectful following of a coach’s instructions is so under-valued nowadays.

C’mon, I want to be a sub-10 hours Ironman triathlete, and I want it now. Gimme a training program that will take me there in 6 weeks, and, by the way, I’m going to listen to every other bit of advice I can find out there, and try lots of different things at the same time… – also Anonymous, but a different one

As a coach, it makes you want to dunk the athlete in radioactive, mutagenic goo. Whatever that is. With an extra-dose of magically enhanced plant enzymes for good measure. Whatever that does.

I Need a (Super)Hero

Seriously again. When it comes to fitness and health, the subconscious message we get from these superhero stories is two-pronged:

  1. Most of what you are, what you are capable of, is innate. Or the result of freak accidents. That’s just the way the world works.
  2. If you train, you should expect results to be both very quick, and very dramatic. No need for long years of honing skills and becoming fit. Fitness, more often than not approximated by weight loss, should be almost instantaneous. Or take no longer than the duration of a TV show’s season.

It makes us look for quick fixes. At the very least, it makes us believe those who tell us their 90 days program, their 60 days program, their 4 weeks program, etc., will get us looking and feeling fantastic. (Like one of the Fantastic 4: stretchy and nimble, or hot like fire, or bulky-muscular like The Thing.)

In the end, we are looking for a silver bullet, for a hero, to save us from poor health. Just because it seems to work that way. We are thus constantly looking for that super solution; the next one must be the right one. We enter a vicious cycle; a kind of prison of the expectations. A prison of our own making.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

What is the truth that shall set you free? It is this: It takes time, and effort.

Just how much time, and how much effort, depends on each person’s genetic make-up, as well as on whether the person gets helped by a coach or not.

So, in a sense, some of it is innate. It does come easier for some. We each have some predisposition for some types of activities. I’ve touched upon that before.

But all of us can become much better everyday athletes, to the point of being true heroes of our own health, families, and society around us, by exercising regularly, consistently.

So move, train, and exercise more. That’s the ticket. After all, the extra weight and the shortness of breath when trying to run for a minute did not come all of a sudden; they happened gradually over many years of too little activity.

And when you need to rest, because training requires proper recovery, I know just what you can do to spend a bit of quiet time: Pick up a comic book, and let your mind dream a little. It won’t hurt, as long as you remember that it is pure fantasy.

Training, Exercise, Regularly, Everyday

You want a piece of me? You’d better train hard. And eat a lot of… gamma radiation.

Images from Pixabay.

P.S.: Regarding the dare, a couple of superheroes come to mind, but I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of the argument’s flow. Besides, they are fairly minor, and don’t have “super” powers: Black Widow and Hawkeye, two so-called “master assassins.” I wish we had more stories about how they trained, and how long it took, for them to become what they are in the Avengers’ world. But keep in mind that they also use super gadgets, which they must have had someone finance for them… Just sayin’…

I’ll do it tomorrow…

Everyday, Exercise, Psychology, Purpose, Motivation, Training

So much to do, so little time. No wonder some things get pushed to the next day.

We’ve all been there…

I get home after a long day at work, not to mention a breakdown-inducing commute, only to face a list of chores which includes making dinner, cleaning the kitchen, paying a bill, assisting with kids’ homework, bath, story time, etc., and, of course, exercising.

After a short internal debate (very short, because there simply is not much time to debate), I come to the obvious conclusion: “I’m too tired, and there’s too much to do, so I’ll exercise tomorrow instead.”

The details vary, but the scenario is similar, whether it’s you, me, or our neighbours living through such a story. More often than not, the decision is to postpone the workout.

It is not a flaw of character: It is simply human nature. It is a form of procrastination, but it is mostly due to our tendency to view the future more optimistically than we have reason to: Although we feel tired now, we still feel we won’t be as tired next time.

Because, of course, what happens the next day, is pretty much the same story… And so days go by that we don’t exercise.

It gets worse: After a couple of days missed, OK maybe three, the brain switches to thinking: “Well, this week is screwed, so I’ll start fresh next week.” It’s the ultimate version of “I’ll do it tomorrow…”

Skipping one workout because something else comes up, or being sick, or really, really needing the time for something else, can happen. It is no big deal. The problem arises when it is not the exception anymore. The real problem is when exercising becomes the exception, not the regular occurrence. When “I’ll do it tomorrow…” is everyday, instead of exercise being everyday.

Let’s face it, very few of us are able to maintain an exercise regimen day in, day out. It is not easy. Heck, I do a few marathons and one iron distance triathlon each year, and I have a hard time keeping a steady exercise regimen.

But some people are capable of doing it.

Those who do are either exercise nuts who don’t really do anything else (you’ve met some, admit it), or have a very clear purpose for training (like elite athletes, which you also think are nuts, but you respect that kind of nuts), or are extremely motivated (for a while, but it does not last), or… are nearly unnoticeable because they operate on auto-pilot.

That’s right: Auto-pilot.

Making decisions is hard

Exercise, Everyday, Training

Just push the button, and let it go.

Why do I say they are on auto-pilot?

Because many who manage to exercise have understood something critical to maintaining a regimen: Mental energy is often in low supply, so if you rely on making the decision to exercise, more often than not you won’t.

So exercise, for those people, is the default behaviour. There is no question, there is no debate. You might be surprised that you don’t see them all that much because they tend to be quieter than the highly motivated or the exercise nuts. They don’t fuss; they just move.

There are two ways this can be achieved, and there is one very important trick you can use to increase the odds of success.

Auto-pilot mode

The first way is to turn your own, internal, auto-pilot mode to ON. It is not easy, and it takes a bit of time to stick (is it 21 days, or more?).

An auto-pilot mode is like a switch that you must program, a mental shortcut that just gets triggered whenever needed.

When you catch yourself asking the question “do I want to exercise” you must immediately answer “yes, of course” and then just do it. (Not trying to infringe on Nike’s trademark, but those are three really good words to tell yourself.)

The sooner you catch yourself and switch to automatically respond in the affirmative, the easier it is. For instance, if you wait until you’ve already told yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow…”, it is much more difficult to tell yourself “No, I’m doing it today.”

But that’s exactly what you must do.

Everyday. Until it becomes automatic.

A trick that helps a great deal is to put exercise on your daily agenda first thing in the morning. Even if it means having to get up earlier. That way, when evening comes, you’ll actually have more energy, and the chores will still be doable.

Let someone else be your pilot

The second way to have an auto-pilot is to actually let someone else be your pilot. Perhaps only for a while, to get over the hump of starting a good habit and jump-starting your own auto-pilot programming.

How does that work?

Get a coach.

And then do what the coach tells you to do.

As you follow the instructions of the coach, notice how things are simpler. Enjoy the free time from having to make decisions. All the decisions are made for you. All you have to do is, well, “do”.

But pick a good coach, one that understands what you are trying to do, and has your interests at heart. That way he or she will have you do things that make sense, in the right intensity, to get you fitter and healthier.

Getting that sort of help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary: It shows resolve for doing the right thing for your body. A commitment to what is important.

After all, top athletes all have coaches. (Many even have more than one, by the way.)

Isn’t it time you consider yourself also an athlete? Albeit, an everyday athlete?

That time is today. No more “I’ll do it tomorrow…”!

Exercise, Everyday, Athlete, Everyday Athlete

You need to make your habit of exercising an automatic behaviour.

Images from Pixabay

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 4

Discipline, Training, Exercise

Starting is easy. Following the plan the whole way, that’s another matter entirely.

Discipline Practice 4 is the simplest of them all, but perhaps the most difficult to do.

Imagine a simple analogy:

You are planning a road trip to go see New York city. Three days before the date you had set, you decide not to wait, and leave immediately. You pack the car in a hurry, and forget to bring the camping gear you were hoping to use to save on motel rooms. Half-way to New York, you see a signpost for Philadelphia, and figure you have enough time, so you’ll go there as well. You spend a large amount of money on a hotel room you find very late at night because you’ve driven too far and are by then exhausted and can’t drive any farther.

The next morning you drive around Philly a bit and finally head towards New York. You get there to realize the main thing you wanted to see, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is closed, opening again only two days later (which would have been fine had you gotten to New York on the expected date). Having few other options, and to make yourself feel a bit better, you once again splurge on an expensive hotel, and the next morning drive back home, where you end up disappointed about your trip because you did not see what you really wanted to see, and spent way too much money…

I can’t put it any plainer than this:

Stick to the plan.

Yes, this one is really called “stick to the plan.”

This holds as much for training as for racing, though it is perhaps more noticeable in the latter case.

Whether you are training with the help of a coach or by yourself, you must have a plan for reaching better fitness. It can be a simple plan, like what No-brainer Fitness is recommending (moving more, on a daily basis), or it can be a detailed training regimen to reach some particular goal (like participating in an Ironman triathlon). No matter. A plan is a plan. Everybody makes them.

You don’t need to be a project manager to understand the proper way to plan for something.

  • Step 1: First, you figure what your objectives are, and where you currently are with respect to those objectives. This allows you to figure-out what is missing, and thus what needs to be done.
  • Step 2: Then you make a detailed, phased approach, a Plan, for bridging the gap.
  • Step 3: Next, you execute the Plan. You do what was planned, step by step, day by day.
  • Step 4: Finally, after the conclusion of the Plan (your fitness event, race, or simply the end of the season of activities), you review the results, and assess whether anything needs to be done better next time.

Because there is always a next time: another season, another event, another goal.

The same holds true for a race plan, but in much more condensed form. You have a goal, there is a starting line; you race, following an established plan, and then you cross the finish line. Whether you cross it after the expected amount of time depends in large part on your training, but also on how well you followed the plan for the race itself.

But here’s what almost invariably happens: at some point, perhaps on many occasions during the execution of the plan, you diverge from what the plan said.

This could be during a training session in which you decide to do something different (typically, more, or simply completely different training), or during a preparatory event, when you decide you feel really good and will go full out instead of keeping the planned pace. Or during the race, where you go too fast, too soon, because you are really excited and think you can do better than planned.

You’ve gone through Step 1 and Step 2, but then you don’t follow Step 3 properly, often leading to a lesser result than hoped for. And when you get to Step 4, lots of reasons can be found to explain what happened (a.k.a. excuses), but seldom do you recall that Step 3 was not followed properly. And you may even blame the Plan itself, or the coach, when in fact it was your Step 3 that was the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having some flexibility with respect to following plans. In particular when listening to your body clamoring for rest, or having to deal with unexpected conditions like the weather or unforeseen family obligations.

And perhaps the Plan was not a good one, or not good enough.

But here’s the thing: If you don’t follow the Plan as closely as possible, you cannot claim that it is not a Good Plan. And you don’t really know how to make it any better.

In training and exercising just like in life in general, we’re supposed to keep learning. Or at least avoid making the same mistakes more than twice (see how much leeway I give us?). The planning process is there to facilitate that learning.

But the only way it works is if you have the discipline to stick to the plan.

Picture from Pixabay.

Theoretically speaking…

Exercise Theory, Training, Fitness, Coaching, Sports Science

A little theory has never hurt anyone. Unless you drop a big book on your foot and break something…

Because a bit of theory never hurt anyone, and because about a year ago I promised I would do so, this post is about the principles underlying training methods aimed at increasing physical fitness.

Because that theory is well understood, and very simple, this will be a short post.

Because simply saying “you train hard, and you get better” is not enough, this post won’t be that short.

A bit of biology

No matter how complex, or simple, an organism, biologically we all are the same in that we interact with our environment to find our sustenance and proliferate. (By the way, even a single-celled bacterium’s complexity should not be under-estimated. But that’s another discussion altogether.)

A large proportion of those interactions can be summarized by a simple cause and effect relationship:

Stimulus ——> Response

Even if the initial action was a movement by the biological entity, the resulting stimulus of the environment on the biological entity will cause a response. For instance, you move your hand to seize a cup on the table; at a touch (stimulus), you feel the scalding heat of coffee therein, and withdraw your hand (response).

Another example: You are sitting quietly in a cafeteria when an alarm rings loudly (stimulus); you immediately get up and leave (response).

Now, often, as the examples above show, the response is one of fight or flight or avoidance. Much like if you start exercising vigorously and find it difficult, the response to the discomfort might very well be to cease the exertion. But sometimes the stimulus is a pleasant one, like sweet food (or sweet NOT FOOD), and the response then becomes to eat more of it.

There is always a response to the stimulus.

However, there is an extension to the simple cause and effect relationship when it comes to biological systems (i.e. living beings). This comes about when the stimulus is provided repeatedly:

Stimulus (repeatedly) ——> Response (each time) ——> Adaptation

Basically, when a biological system is subjected to a stimulus often enough, not only does it respond in the short term, but it can also modify itself (its behaviour, its own sub-systems) so as to be able to change the short-term response and even deal with the stimulus.

That, as you may be able to guess, is the basis for the Training Principle.

(Admittedly, human beings have big brains that allow us to speed up adaptation, and even predict stimuli we don’t particularly care for. However, how effective we are at doing that is still subject to debate. Revisiting the example of the fire alarm in the cafeteria, if your response is to stay put because there have often been false alarms, then your adaptation to the stimulus could end up costing you your life. But I digress.)

The Training Principle

Simply stated (in my own words):

Subject the body to a specific physical stressor (stimulus) repeatedly and provide sufficient recovery time from the ensuing fatigue (response) to allow it to become stronger (adapt) in dealing with that specific stressor.

That is how all exercise regimens and training programs function.

The trick, the real job of coaches, is to vary the correct details. Because the body will adapt to the stimulus it is subjected to, and only to that stimulus.

That is why you will not gain much muscle mass by doing endurance training; that is why doing a lot of weight lifting (a.k.a. body building) will do almost nothing for your cardio-vascular capacity; and why doing always short bursts of intense activity may gain you some muscle mass and power, but will not make you burn much fat because that energy system is barely used in that kind of activity (you’d need to do longer, less intense activity for effective fat burning).

Moreover, note the potential pitfall in the principle: The body adapts to the stimulus provided. Which ultimately means that the body will not change beyond a certain adaptation if the stimulus remains the same.

That is why simply jogging 30 minutes per day will only get you so far in improving your fitness. To get even better fitness, you need to vary the stimulus once the body has adapted to it, or a little before that.

Sport scientists often use the acronym FIT to describe how the stimulus can be varied:

  • Frequency: How often one trains or exercises.
  • Intensity: At what intensities.
  • Time: Or duration of each training session.

Some even add a second T (making it FITT) by including Type, because different types of exercises also make a difference. For instance, doing core work, which is strength training, is now recognized as a way to improve running performance. But it was not the case until a few years ago.

I like FITT. That’s what coaches work with. That’s what is fun about coaching: Finding the correct mix of FITT for each person to get them to increase their fitness as fast, and as safely, as possible.

But it all starts with subjecting your body to the right stimulus. Or stimuli. Like getting up and moving.

The nice thing is that one of the ways in which your body will adapt, past the initial response of finding it hard, is to ask for more. You just have to use your big brain to deal with the temporary discomfort, and then you’ll be on your way to better fitness…

In a future post, and hopefully not in a year’s time, I’ll describe the many ways in which the body adapts to exercise. That’s also fascinating, and goes a long way in explaining why better fitness leads to increased odds of being healthy for a long time.

Picture from Pixabay.

Injuries – A causation guide (of sort)

Injury, Movement, Training, Exercise, Triathlon

Move, move a lot, but make sure you don’t end up injured this year.

To start off the new calendar year, I thought I’d touch lightly on a very serious topic.

So this post will have a very serious component, and a more humorous one. (You’ll have to guess which is which. I’ll make it easy.)

Anyone talking about training, exercise, and racing of any king, has to talk about injuries. I’m a triathlete, and a triathlon coach, so of course I know about the topic, and I cover it with the athletes I coach.

When talking about this topic, we have to first share an understanding that injuries can, and do, occur. That comes with the territory of training. There’s no denying it. (Anyone who does, is selling you something, and most likely lying.)

Indeed, injuries (or pain perceived as injury by a newbie to exercise) is the primary cause for quitting an exercise regimen or training program. It seems a reasonable thing to conclude: If movement is what caused someone to get injured, then stopping to move is the solution. (That seems to be the reasoning of many General Practitioners of the medical profession, to the frustration of many coaches, including me.)

But not moving is, overall, worse for your health than moving.

As a matter of fact, the best way to prevent injuries is to move more, not less, but to do so in a reasonable way. By reasonable I mean by using the correct techniques, and doing only as much as is necessary to stress your body into getting into better shape (once it has sufficiently recovered).

The Main Culprit

Let’s face it, athletes are often their own worst enemy: overuse (over-training) is the primary cause of injury in athletes. And that’s why you should have a coach, and, equally importantly, why you should listen to him or her!

Preventing injuries that can occur through intense training (and over-training) is obviously priority #1 of any coach. And that is achieved through well-balanced programs that include strength training and sufficient rest.

And constant reminders to athletes to take their rest days.

Once injured, the best approach is not to stop all activity, but rather to take some rest (complete rest at first, then some other activities can be recommended by a competent physiotherapist or even by the coach). Interestingly, that’s frequently how people get started into doing triathlon; through having to do other sports than the one in which the injury occurred.

A single-sport approach to training increases the risk of getting hurt, so triathletes have a slight advantage in injury prevention.

However, triathlon also has a bunch of other types of injuries you can fall prey to, so you have to keep them in mind, and be careful. If, in running, injuries typically come to feet, ankles, knees and hips from bad training (bad form, too many impacts, running too fast, too often, too long), in triathlon the same thing can happen, but to more parts of the body (shoulders, back, etc.). So you need to work on more parts of the body to fix an injured triathlete.

And in some cases you also need a mechanic…

The Other Causes

So, to balance this post, here are the main causes of injuries for triathletes, from the least likely to the most common, and tongue a little in cheek:

10) Drowning. Very, very, very unlikely.  Recovery is usually impossible. Near-drowning is another matter and can lead to the encounter of interesting people, but is not recommended as a potential dating strategy due to its risky nature.

9) Getting beaten during the swim (kicks, fists, etc.). It can hurt a lot, and even cause mild injuries, but usually one recovers pretty quickly, and completes the race. The injury can last for a while, from bruises to muscle cramps, and can have some long-term effects (fear of swimming in a crowd, which is just a little less scary than being naked in a crowd).

8) Getting hit by a car when running. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

7) Getting hit by a car when riding. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

6) Missing a turn while riding. Particularly when the road is slippery, but the main cause is usually going too fast on a road that is not well known. So “pilot error” is a factor. Consequences range from scrapes and bruises to broken bones. Recovery (and returning confidence) vary accordingly.

5) Getting hit by a cyclist when running. Hitting a runner or a cyclist while riding. Recovery depends on how fast and how heavy the hit… and any subsequent altercation between the runner and cyclist.

4) Colliding with another swimmer in the pool. Either through carelessness on your part, or because the other swimmer is a nincompoop. Again, recovery depends on how hard the hit and the ensuing argument, but is usually fairly short.

3) Swallowing lots of water while swimming; can lead to serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems, especially if the water is salted or chlorinated. Recovery usually comes shortly after vomiting.

2) Over-training (a.k.a. abusing your own body); doing too much, too fast, too long, in all three sports.  Rest, and a consultation with your coach (or a psychologist) typically helps… We’re talking fasciatis, tendinitis, stress fractures, etc., and things that typically happen to runners’ legs, but in our case can also happen to shoulders (swimming) and the back (cycling). Some cases require extensive leave from the sport, so never underestimate the risk of wanting to do more, or obsessing about racing.

1) Falling on your side, from your bike, while trying to un-clip your shoe at a stop sign or light. You can get bruised (hip and arm) or even break something (wrist, arm, collar bone). But most of the time the damage is limited to the ego, and recovery can be very fast if you just laugh it off. But this is by far the most common cause of injury for a triathlete, so un-clip soon, and often.

As you can see, the main causes are mostly accidents.  You have to remain tuned onto your body, but also and particularly aware of your surroundings at all times, during races and training sessions.

And that’s a lesson that valid all the time. The more mindful you are, the more attuned to your body and surrounding, the safer you will be. And the more healthy you’ll be.

Have a great year of moving a lot!

Fitness, Injury, Triathlon, Movement, Rest

Just because it is still early in 2015. Have a great year of fitness!

Pictures from Pixabay.

What makes a good coach – Part 4 (End)

Coach, coaching, sports, training, exercise

What makes a good coach? Lots, it turns out…

So, what makes a good coach?

If you have read part 1, 2, and 3, on this topic, your patience is about to be rewarded. No more discussions, no more illustrations, no more stories. Just my take on the question.

(But rest assured, there will be more stories later. There are always more stories later.)

Here are the qualities and attributes that make a coach truly good, based on my years of experience on both sides of the question. They are not in order of importance; I consider all of them equally important, but I had to organize the list, somehow. Consider that the earlier attributes in the list are, in some cases, prerequisites for the later ones…

The List

Athletes come first
A good coach puts the interests and health of the athletes before his or her own. So it should no longer be acceptable to put athletes through a meat grinder to extract a few star performers if you end up burning out the vast majority of hopefuls. And the converse is true: It must be acceptable that some athletes want to have a great time doing sports, but not necessarily aim to go to the Olympics.

Knowledge
A good coach is very knowledgeable in the sport(s) being coached, both the overall aspects (rules, tactics, etc.) as well as the techniques that are considered optimal for athletes to use in performing the sport.

Teaching
A good coach is able to teach the sport and its techniques to athletes. This goes beyond demonstrating the correct techniques: It is about being able to understand in what ways the athlete is not succeeding, and finding ways to gradually bring about changes in the athlete’s technique.

Customization
A good coach can adapt to the level of athletes, providing customized instruction and training programs that are suited to their own needs, instead of pushing a standard program onto everyone. You might say this goes hand in hand with teaching, and you would not be wrong; however, some aspects of this can exist where no proper teaching is found.

Planning
A good coach is also able to adapt the training so as to make progression fun and not seem like hard work. Basically, being able to plan individual training sessions so that athletes enjoy them even as they learn, and planning those sessions so that they fit neatly into an overall development plan. Especially for younger athletes or kids beginning in a sport, but I strongly suspect this approach would have significant success with adults who try to maintain a resolution to exercise more.

Role Model
A good coach exemplifies fair play and sportsmanship, and insists on it, no matter what, by being respectful of the rules, those who are in charge of enforcing them, and other athletes involved in the sport. Name calling at referees and treating opponents like enemies are not acceptable, ever.

Constructive
A good coach congratulates and motivates in a constructive way while sparingly using negative feedback. Basically, a good coach should only need to smile to show appreciation, but doesn’t, and frown to show displeasure, and does never more than that.

That’s it

This is a tall order. In some ways, almost impossible to find; at any rate, very demanding of the coach to perform all the time.

I feel that is why many coaches choose to focus on a type of coaching that does not require all of those attributes: By coaching highly committed adults, those I might qualify as passionate to the point of being obsessive about a sport, it is possible to get by with deep knowledge of the sport and techniques, and forget the rest. But that works only as long as the athletes are self-driven, and don’t particularly care about their own long-term health.

The key thing, when you are an adult interested in picking up a sport like running or triathlon (or any other, really), is that you should seek a coach that suits you. I encourage you to use the above list as a reference, but your own needs come first.

If you are a parent, you should look for the listed qualities in your kids’ coaches, and act accordingly. If you are considering coaching kids, your own and/or others, you should really keep the above in mind, and pick-up the knowledge and habits you’ll need. And keep your own emotions, and ambitions, in check.

And if all you are interested in is joining a group to have fun with a cheerleader-coach, then by all means, do so. The important thing is to move more. Yet I encourage you to ask for more, and expect more, of yourself as well as of others…

A few more words

A lot of what I wrote has to do with personality, at least on the surface of it. It is true that some personalities are ill-suited to be coaches, just like some athletes are impossible to coach. But it is not just about personality: It is about a fundamental attitude that coaches need to have.

No matter what their own ambitions and motivations, good coaches act in such a way as to show those qualities. They understand that the needs of the athletes are more important, and that if they do a good job as coaches, the rest will follow: good athletes, good performance, opportunities to coach at a higher level maybe, etc.

Knowledge, it must be noted, can be acquired in many different ways. No need to have a degree in sport physiology, or to have been an elite athlete.

Teaching is by far the least obvious part in the list. It takes skills, and time. And patience. But coaching is too important, because of its potential impact on athletes, to be given any less.

Finally, if you can’t be a good role model, if you don’t show respect to others as a coach, what kind of athletes will you have?

Have I forgotten anything? Let me know what you think…

Picture from Pixabay

What’s NBF all about – a refresher

Fitness, Exercise, Sport, Triathlon

What’s NBF all about? More than this picture, that’s for sure…

To celebrate the 40th post of No-brainer Fitness, I thought it worthwhile to offer a brief recap.

Basically, in case you are still wondering, or if you are fairly new to No-brainer Fitness, here’s what it’s all about, in the form of an interview, but definitely in No-brainer Fitness style:

What does NBF stand for?

NBF is my acronym for No-brainer Fitness.

Ok, smart ass, but what is it all about, really?

No-brainer Fitness is about getting fit so as to be, and remain, as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

Why the “No-brainer” part?

Because it is my contention that, in order to get and remain fit, you don’t need to do anything very complicated. Also, the benefits of being fit are so good and numerous, that you should not have to think twice about it.

Don’t you have some secret agenda?

You mean other than helping others reap the benefits of fitness?

Yes.

No.

C’mon, admit it! You are trying to create a cult to fitness, or at least get rich from this, aren’t you?

Well, it would be nice to make a living helping others, but I still do it for free.

So, no cult?

No cult. Quite the contrary, I promise.

Ok, prove it: How does one get fit?

You need to move more. A lot more. On a daily basis. Not just 30 minutes of intense exercise every other day, and then sitting on your chair or sofa the rest of the time. Instead of seeking ways to save your energy, you need to get into the habit of using more energy. Walking more, taking stairs instead of escalators or elevators, doing some light strength exercises, not sitting so much at work, picking up a fun sport again, etc.

That sounds like hard work: I’m getting tired just reading about it. How does one get there?

A big part of it is changing your mindset so that you no longer think about moving as hard, but as something that your body craves, much like you crave food. Our bodies really do crave movement, and as you get moving, you start to feel it more keenly.

Talking about craving, what about eating super foods and taking supplements that will make me fit and healthy and help me lose weight? Isn’t that a lot easier?

There is no such thing as “super foods”, and if you eat well, you don’t need supplements. Losing weight comes naturally from moving more and eating a good diet, not from dieting. But the key is moving more. First and foremost, that’s what you have to focus on. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something (like supplements).

Unlike you?

Unlike me.

But if we wanted to buy something from you, we could. Right?

Well, if you are interested in picking up running or triathlon as a sport, because those are great ways of getting and remaining fit, I could help with that, too. And for that, yes, I do get paid, because it demands much more attention to make sure it is done right, and you reach your personal objectives.

What else do you provide? Surely it can’t be that simple…

It is. Really. But I try to make it enjoyable to do the right thing, and I provide advice to help steer through the wild west of products and tips out there. Because being fit is both simple and fun.

Hmmm… What else?

Well, it doesn’t hurt to stay away from things that are clearly bad for you, what I call NOT FOOD. But the key, I insist, is in moving a lot more.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I almost believe you.

Feel free to ask me other questions. Or read some of my 39 previous posts; you are sure to find more about what NBF stands for, and how to be more fit.

Move on!

Health, Fitness, Exercise

Working on some visuals for No-brainer Fitness… Feedback welcome.