Thursday, May 28, 2009

Coaching: Art or Science?

What is performance coaching? Art or Science.

It's both, and that's the problem.

Some coaches are scientists. They test and measure and make calculations. They understand the the mechanics and mechanisms of human movement. They can design the optimal program based on their knowledge.

Other coaches are artists. They inspire and challenge and connect. They understand how to communicate with the athlete and tap into the athletes motivations and personality.

There are several problems caused by this seeming dichotomy of art and science:

1. Outsiders are confused. Which are we? Is it art or science? Because they are presented opposing views, or come from a bias for one or the others themselves, we often seem like charlatans. When they encounter a coach who is all science or all art and they don't match or the results are poor, the perception is negative.

2. As a profession, we are confused. Look at the conferences and seminars and you'll see it quickly. Some are all about the science, others have no science and all art. All science and you have academia with theories, but no ability to apply it in the real world. All art and you have some successes and many failures but never know why.

This is also where many coaches are turned off from the other view and the battle lines are drawn. The artist sitting listening to the scientist will hear a blowhard talking about theory and see nothing they can use. The scientist witnessing artists doesn't understand why the artist can't give them the exact formula or proof for what they do and they see a con-artist.

3. We don't recognize which aspect is needed. You may have the best science in the world, and the perfect program, but if you can't communicate it and get the athlete to buy in, it won't work. The real world isn't a lab and you can't control all the variables. You have to have the artistic skills to adapt to the athlete appropriately and make decisions based on the day to day. You have to be creative and at times follow your gut instinct.

On the flip side if you are the artist, you may get some great results because of your talent and instincts, but eventually you will run into trouble when you are working with the right canvas, When the athlete is different or has different needs and you don't have the scientific knowledge to help guide your direction. You need the science to build you art upon.

When you witness a truly great performance coach you find genius. Most have a bias toward one side or the other, but the great ones learn to develop both. The greatest coaching staffs have a blend of both. Leonard da Vinci may be the perfect example or artist/scientist. The epitome of a "renaissance man." When you can master both sides of the performance coin, then you are a master.

Can you be that good?