Coaching The Athlete for Autonomy

The above topic sends both shivers down my spine but is also something as a coach I aspire to, let me explain.

Some people I have coached see my role as coach as a limiter - the person who structures and takes out the emotion of training via science and planning. (Example: today I feel great so I will swim as well as bike/run, not being concerned with tomorrow’s session – thus not being concerned with periodization’s and other scientific ideas.)

Autonomy by popular definition means; (not true definition)

·        I can do what I like when I like

·        I have the choice to choose if I like this or not. (Keeping in mind we seldom do what we don’t like!)

·        I will swap this for that and do that later

·        Those other athletes do that so it must be good, so I will do it

Coaching as I see it means;

 ·        Setting specific individual goals with athletes and setting up an environment for them to be reached

·        Planning out short/medium/long term training structures to underpin such goals (periodization)

·        Identifying weaknesses and training them (identifying weaknesses is often something we struggle to do with ourselves.)

·        Reviewing and re-planning with each event, injury, failure, success, rest etc.

These examples are practically opposite ends of the scale really. How can we train to feel, yet follow ‘the plan’, how to follow the science whilst making it individual?

I have found the more autonomy I give, the further from ‘the plan’ we get. I don’t think it is either good or bad exclusively. However as a coach I feel in some part your results are my responsibility so the further we move away from ‘the plan’, the closer I move to a failed result and the ending of coaching contract!!

Many times I have had athletes get a result that is well below their potential. I am left wondering and assessing how much of it is the programming (my part) and how much the athlete followed it, or what mix of both!! Often the athlete doesn’t know how underperformed they are, and as a coach this is the most difficult thing to have – an underperforming athlete (whether they know it or not).

I am finding the art of coaching is giving the athlete enough autonomy so they are not robotic, resistant and sneaky, allowing them to be spontaneous, and train to feel, whilst maintaining some of the basic concepts of the ‘structured plan’. Whilst in most cases I get this right, each individual has different expectations, previous experiences with coaches and goals etc.

As your coach, let me know how we are going.

The only solution I can see is vibrant communication from both directions. Are you doing this well?? Am I doing this well?? Allow me to be a good coach, allow me to assist you to perform to your best – your potential. Your feedback is welcomed - vigorous or otherwise!!