Human Performance in the World of AI

Coach Grant Holicky explains what technological advances and AI won't be able to replace in coaches.

Artificial intelligence has been taking the world by storm lately, with many businesses and websites incorporating some form of machine learning into their everyday processes—and coaching businesses are no different. AI may be able to streamline data analysis and customized training plans, but that’s not everything that’s important in the coach-athlete relationship. A biopsychosocial approach to coaching may be the key to cultivating engagement and longevity in sport for your coaching clients.

In this video, Grant Holicky from Forever Endurance explains why play and emotional connection are vital aspects of the coaching process, and how they can’t be replaced with emerging technologies.

Video Transcript

Grant Holicky (to athletes)  0:04

Don’t take the whole shot. Go!

Nice Tara, go get ’em. Go get ’em.

The Human Aspect of Coaching

Grant Holicky  0:28

The pure biological/physiological training model that doesn’t have a lot of call and response, it doesn’t have a lot of flexibility in movement by the coach—AI will replace that type of training plan. So I think it’s really important that coaches start to understand that they’re going to need to lean into the personal aspect of coaching. They’re going to need to recognize that coaching as a partnership, coaching the whole athlete, coaching the athlete off the field of play is going to become more and more important as AI becomes more and more relevant in our world. As AI can do the things that you do already, you need to move coaching to a place that you’re doing the things that AI cannot do.

Grant Holicky (to athletes)  1:15

And then we’ll go three on the gas, kind of however hard you want to be on the gas. I know I’ll be backed off a little bit. You should be somewhat backed off, Eric. These are decent-size laps, so be smart. Go!

Grant Holicky  1:40

I’m trying to be very in tune with their reaction. I’m trying to be in tune with their mood, with their happiness, with how the workout felt. That interaction coming—whether that’s in personal interactions, looking in their eyes, and seeing how they normally are and seeing how they are today, or just listening to the comments that they’re putting in on a workout. How would they normally react to this workout when they did it well? Is that different today? Are they upset with the workout even though they’ve put out the same things? Those changes in an athlete, those—that variability in their reaction to a workout, that’s how a coach that is really understanding the whole athlete is going to respond differently than AI.

AI may go, “Everything’s fine. This is exactly where we need to be.” But if I have an athlete that’s moody, or a little bit snappy, or a little bit unhappy—even if other numbers are putting out perfect, right on the mark—I may then pull back. I may then take a moment. But what I’ll really do is say to the athlete, “How are you doing? What are you doing today? You seem a little off, what’s going on?”

A couple things are really important with that interaction. One, you’re gleaning more information from the athlete of where they are in the training cycle, but also you’re strengthening the rapport and you’re strengthening the relationship and raising the level of trust with that athlete, which is going to enhance your coaching relationship moving forward. I think without a doubt AI is going to bring coaching and training plans within the ability of almost every athlete, right? We’re going to see a fairly inexpensive approach to coaching. We’re going to see a probably very highly responsive aspect of coaching at an economical rate. So what it may do for the coaching industry is bring more athletes into a place where they’re being coached, they’re being quote, unquote, “trained.”

AI as a Pathway to Personalized Coaching

Grant Holicky  3:37

What we see a lot now is we see athletes that aren’t ready to take that leap, and especially novice athletes. Or on the other end of the spectrum, very experienced athletes that think they know themselves very well. And they probably do. But they’re a little hesitant to go into the coaching because it’s a financial commitment and a time commitment. And they may see AI as a way to get both of those things a little bit cheaper and a little bit easier. This in turn, though, may bring them into the coaching sphere. And as they do more with AI, they may see that need for a personal coach. And I think that’s a place where coaches really have to move in the future toward individualized coaching, toward individualized training plans, and really helping athletes understand and see the benefit of the relationship.

Grant Holicky (to athletes)  4:27

You go. Yo! The big brain on Noah. [laughs] And the small brain on Grant.

The Importance of Play

Grant Holicky  4:43

Sport is supposed to be fun. And one of the main jobs of a coach is to keep that joy in the sport for the athlete. And this is where that coaching relationship can really play out. Doing something different. Taking a road athlete and bringing them into the dirt: having them race the mountain bike or practice cyclocross or doing something that’s totally out of play. But specifically, what it can do for the athlete is take the pressure off a little bit. They can just go out and find the joy of training again.

And I think most athletes at a high level do love training. What they start to get a little stale, or they start to struggle a little bit with training is that there’s always that pressure of performance. If you’re on an extraordinarily high level, and you go out for a training session, you know what levels you’re supposed to be, you know what power you’re supposed to be, and you really, really can be focused on that power meter.

So I think it’s really good in the coaching relationship to find ways to go play. We all learn sport through play, we all found our first joy in sport through play. Finding that for every level of athlete, there’s a great deal of research that that ability to play helps us learn more. That ability to play takes pressure off the failures, and failures become a great learning opportunity moving forward. That implementation of joy for an athlete—and for the coach—that can never come from AI. We’re never going to be able to find that aspect of coaching for a platform that’s just writing the perfect training plan.

Remember that kids came into these sports as young kids just learning to love to play. They didn’t come into this sport to become great. They came into the sport for love. AI can’t bring that same love into what they do. Coaches though, can.