Deepen Your Sport-Specific Knowledge

Joe Friel describes why it is so important for coaches to fully understand the unique demands of an athlete's event.

There is no doubt that you must be fully aware of the unique demands of the event for which you are preparing the athlete. Not only does the client expect it but you are putting yourself in legal jeopardy if it becomes apparent that you didn’t know the stresses for which you were hired to prepare the athlete and the athlete has a dangerous or even life-threatening experience.

In addition to designing a plan based on the known challenges of the sport, the athlete will look to you for guidance in knowing what to expect and how to deal with the many difficulties that must be confronted. So let’s start with the obvious—as a coach you must know the physical and mental stresses of the event. This includes:

  • the athlete’s expected time on the course;
  • anticipated intensities of their movement;
  • the risks of crashing;
  • extreme elevation changes;
  • need for food and fluids;
  • or other high-risk activities such as crossing open water, negotiating hilly terrain, and exposure to severe weather.

Be aware of the risks and make sure the athlete is also aware. This is the minimum expectation. In addition, there are many far less perilous but necessary details you must be knowledgeable of when preparing the athlete for an event.

Coaches also need to be well-versed in event rules, common practices, race entry/qualification, expected performance level requirements, and scheduling. You must be an expert on the many nuances of the sport from clothing needs to equipment to outside assistance to details of the course. It’s imperative that you know the sport and the event inside and out.

Much of this will probably come from your experience as an athlete in the sport you coach. That’s common among coaches. But there may be times when you coach an athlete who has little or no knowledge of what they are attempting. On the other hand, I’ve coached athletes for events for which I had little or no experience. I coached both the male and female national champions in endurance horse racing (the riders, not the horses). What I knew about the sport I learned from the athletes. I was fortunate to have highly experienced clients.

Even when you know the sport well, you must keep up with the ongoing changes in rules, courses, methods, equipment, and much more. This is easy to do if you also compete in the sport. If you don’t participate in a sport you coach, then it’s important that you stay abreast of what’s happening by reading sport-related websites, magazines, social media; by staying in touch with the sport’s national governing body and the particular event for which you are preparing the athlete; and by talking with officials, athletes, and other coaches.

There is risk associated with being a coach just as there is with being an athlete. But it’s a different type of risk. Be prepared. Learn all you can. It’s imperative that you are knowledgeable of the sport and the event for which you are preparing the athlete. And make sure that the athlete is also aware of what he/she will be facing in the event.

The Craft of Coaching Skills Pyramid by Joe Friel

Resources for improving sport-specific knowledge

Sport-specific knowledge is usually handled quite well by the national governing body for their respective sport. This type of expertise is typically a requirement to become a licensed coach. To correct a weakness in sport-specific knowledge, it is imperative that you become licensed by the sports federation and stay abreast of the many details of the sport.

This may be done by taking classes in person or online as offered by your sport’s governing body, and attending events in the sport as a participant, spectator, official, or volunteer. There are many publications you can read about the sport and books which go into detail on its many complexities. This is also a time when working for a coaching company with coaching associates who can be of help is valuable. Sport-specific mentors will also be quite beneficial in helping you grow as a coach in your sport.

National Governing Body Resources

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