What Will Coach Education Look Like in the Future? – with Joe Friel and Jon Tarkington

We explore the past, present, and future of coach education with Joe Friel and Jon Tarkington.

On this week’s episode, instead of diving into one topic, we chat with two renowned educators—Joe Friel and Jon Tarkington—about how athletes and coaches can learn from one another—and what they think coach education will look like in the future.
Among the questions we ask are: How were coaches taught in the past? What were coaches’ philosophies back then? What does the future of coaching education look like?

Of course, Friel needs few introductions. As a best-selling endurance sports author and one of the founders of the TrainingPeaks software platform, he has helped forge today’s coaching industry. He spearheads our Craft of Coaching coach education series, and you can find the latest module of this—Managing Athlete Performance—here. And as USA Cycling’s Coaching Education and Development Director, Tarkington is on-point when it comes to looking at the future of coaching.
Between them, our guests have decades of experience in coaching and coach education, and they put this experience to great use in this episode as we look to the future. Listen in to find out more—and let’s make you fast.

Episode Transcript

Rob Pickels  00:04

Welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. Today, we’re taking a little bit of a different track. Instead of talking about a science topic that we’re educating you, our listeners, on, we’re talking with two different educators about how coaches themself, and athletes learn.

I think we’re gonna have a great conversation today. We have Joe Friel, the illustrious author, well-known across the world for TrainingPeaks, and everything else he’s been involved with, and maybe a little bit of a newcomer, John Tarkington with USA Cycling. We are going to have a really great conversation about coach education from both sides of the fence today.

Trevor Connor  00:42

Hi, everyone, this is Coach Connor. Fast Talk Labs just released a new module from The Craft of Coaching with Joe Friel, which we’re really excited about here at Fast Talk Labs. We all know that it takes plenty of analysis, critical thinking, and decision making to create performance. Joe Friel unpacks the complexity of this topic with a guide to the common training metrics and tools for the data analysis. You’ll learn more about balancing training load over a season, how to get athletes race ready, and best practices for post race analysis.

Trevor Connor  01:11

Hear from pros turned master coaches, Ben Day of Day to Day Coaching, who talks about how to best measure and cultivate performance. Also learn from Julie Dibens, who describes how to help your athletes grow from failure and disappointment. If you are results-driven, this module is not to be missed. Contact us to learn more at fasttalklabs.com.

Trevor Connor  01:37

Well, Joe and Jon, it’s great to have both of you on the show. I know both of you have been heavily involved in coach education and athlete education. So this is a topic near and dear to your heart, welcome to the show.

Joe Friel  01:50

Thanks so much, Trevor. Looking forward to it. Thanks, Trevor.

Rob Pickels  01:53

So Joe, you’ve kind of been everywhere, right? I have written down in my notes: You’re an OG of coaching. You were an athlete for a long time. You’ve literally written the book, you’ve been part of coaches in education. Tell us real quick in 30 seconds, you know, what do listeners need to know about you?

Joe Friel  02:11

Oh, well, I’ve been around a long time, as you mentioned, and I think that’s in some ways good. But sometimes I feel like it’s a burden I’m carrying also. But I’ve been around the sport around endurance sports, running, triathlon, cycling since the 1950s. Let’s take it back that far as versus an athlete, and later on as a coach. And so I’ve kind of seen the world of coaching evolve over the course of 50 years. But it’s been a lot of fun.

Rob Pickels  02:38

Awesome, Jon, you kind of part of the new guard, right? You were an athlete for a long time, high level rider, coach of individuals, right through Teton Cycling, right, and now you’re at USAC.

Jon Tarkington  02:49

Correct. And so even though I’ve been around for a while, as a coach, as an athlete, it’s still half as long as Joe. But I am definitely new to my role as coaching Education and Development Director for USA Cycling, but I’m pretty emphatic about it. It’s been a program that’s been a little empty for a while, and we’re excited to bring it back to life.

Rob Pickels  03:09

So a place I kind of want to start this conversation is in a little bit of history. Right? I think that even back in ancient times, we knew a little bit about the body, you know, and then kind of around the turn of the century is when we really began the study of physiology. But it seems like at that point in time, there wasn’t really a lot of coaching going on, what what was the the situation for runners and Olympians and cyclists at the turn of the century?

Joe Friel  03:40

Well, at the turn of the century, it was really, I would not call it professional coaching at all, there were people who were helping athletes, let’s put it that way. And improve their performance. They weren’t doing this as professionals, more along the lines of fun, just something they enjoyed doing. They enjoyed the sport, whether that was cycling or running, or whatever it may be. And they advise people on what they thought they ought to be doing with and how to prepare for an event. That was very, very basic. And that was the starting point for all of this.

As you mentioned, the 1930s is when coaching began to actually become something which was considered to be a profession. Although most people at that time are still doing it as a part-time job, something they did on the side, but it was something they enjoyed a lot. And it’s evolved and continues to evolve, and has by no means reached a pinnacle yet. This has been going on for many, many decades. And coaching is still evolving. Still, we’re still learning how to do things. But it really takes us back to, you know, the turn of the century, the 20th century, as far as people actually who are advising athletes on how to prepare for competition. So I won’t go into a lot of details on that, but that’s it. An old profession, which is really still, in some ways in its infancy, we’re still learning how to do this trade of coaching.

Rob Pickels  05:08

Yeah, you know what, 1930, if I remember correctly, was when the term Fartlek training came out. So that’s kind of what I’m associating with the beginning of maybe a more formalized or standardized, you know, coaching methodology. But Joe, in The Craft of Coaching, you know, that we’re producing with you through Fast Talk, you bring up two different coaches, Franz Stampfl and Doc Counsilman, as being really influential. Do you have any insight into where they got their information that they were disseminating to athletes? Because we’ve moved forward a little bit now, we’re talking about the ’40s and the ’50s. Correct?

Joe Friel  05:44

That’s correct. Stampfl —and I’d be surprised if somebody out there knew of Stampfl was, but you’ve all heard of Roger Bannister. I’m sure everybody’s aware of him. Well, Stampfl was Bannister’s coach and had been an athlete himself back in the 30s and 40s. Very interesting story. It’s just this fascinating story about how this guy became an athlete and eventually became a coach and all these things that have to do with World War Two, they were a part of his growth as a coach—what he learned along the way, he was self-taught, he had no degree in anything related to coaching or biology. He was a self-taught individual who developed unique methodologies for working with athletes, basically he gives interval training that was his primary methodology. And he used that with Bannister to create success. But the primary thing he did really was not so much his coaching methodology, physiologically or biologically, it was more psychologically. He realized the challenge with Bannister was not trying to prepare him physically, he thought he could do it. In fact, he knew he could do it. The challenge was preparing him psychologically, because nobody believed back in the 1940s and early 50s that anybody could break four minutes for the mile. That was considered to be impossible by many people, including people in physiology, so he had to convince him he could do it. So he spent a lot more time in restaurants and bars talking to Bannister than he did on the track with him overseeing workouts.

He came out with a book in 1955, which I read which by the way, it’s the most expensive book I’ve ever bought in my life because it’s been around for so many years and a lot of people had it before me. But nevertheless, an interesting guy who’s one of the first people to develop a methodology for coaching. Now, Counsilman, this is a guy who’s entirely different from Stampfl. This is a guy who had been an athlete himself, they have that in common, but he goes on to get a PhD in exercise physiology. He produces a number of papers that are published in journals, and he believes in coaching his athletes based on science. He’s very scientifically oriented. And he’s very successful. He was a swim coach at Indiana University. He produced more than 50 medalists in the Olympics over the course of his coaching career, probably the most successful coach in history. If we look at that as being the measure of what success is all about, and he taught everything based on on science, the things that swimmers do today in the pool are things that he was the first to do, little things like having a pace clock. That was his idea—today we accept that as being common in swimming, there’s a clock on the wall which tells you you know what your so you can figure out what’s your laps splits are wider doing a workout. Well, that was his idea. His idea also was to teach swimming as a form of the Bernoulli principle, which I won’t go in detail here. But that has to do with how wing on airplane works. And he talked about lift and drag and how the arm the swimmers body and arms should be in the water.

So you improve this ability to move forward by using fluid dynamics to move forward with the same as gas dynamics in the Bernoulli principle. So he’s, he’s talking about all this stuff with his athletes which was brand new ideas. And today coaches are still using his ideas. He was a coach back in the 60s 70s and 80s. That’s when he was coaching at peak of his career. Coaches to this day swim coaches are still using his ideas and his will ways of doing things. So these are two very unique individuals who produced a great deal of success with athletes. But they did it in remarkably different ways.

Rob Pickels  10:10

Yeah, so we highlight these two people that are relatively close to each other in time, but it feels like this transition may be between when we’re moving from experience, right, the things that you knew yourself to more of a sort of scientific study and the sharing of knowledge. Now, Joe, correct me if I’m wrong, but you were an athlete about this time in the 50s. What was sort of your first hand experience with how coaching was happening? And can you use that to take us all the way through to today?

Joe Friel  10:37

Well, I was in junior high, I was a runner in junior high school in the 1950s 1960s. I’m still a runner, high school, mid 1960s. I’m in college, a runner. And so I’ve gone through the 50s 60s, and 70s, as an as a an athlete. And I saw how coaches worked, how they worked with their athletes. And I assume that’s the way you did it. I became a coach, the 1970s, I was coaching High School, track and field. And I simply went back and did what my coaches did, how did they coach me, and I use those very same methodologies, with my athletes. And it really wasn’t until the late 70s, I had my I had my master’s degree by this point, which is 1977 Exercise Science. And I began to realize around the early 1980s, that I didn’t know very much the world was changing, the world of sport was changing. I could see science becoming something that we had never talked about. When I was even in my college years. working on my Masters, we hadn’t talked about all this stuff. And so I realized I had to, I had to somehow become smarter. And that improvement had to be an area of science. And so I began to do things in my life to become more well read.

First thing I did was I just started, I subscribed to publications that were related to the science of sport, for example, I took a subscribe to publication came out monthly called running research news. And all the author dibs he produced a four page document that came out once a month and just talked about the latest research. That was a starting point for me, that then led me to start going to the library, I live next to the Colorado State University Library. And I would go over there and read publications looking for abstracts that I could make copies of that I thought might be interesting, I’m going to read the entire rd of the entire study every time I go in there. So I just wanted to read abstracts, to find the studies that I thought might be interesting to me and valuable to me. So I would make copies of these abstracts and take them home. And I’ve had a stack of abstracts on my office desk. And every morning, I would pick up that abstract off the top of the stack, I would read it, see if there’s anything here that I thought may be beneficial to my coaching. If there was I would, I would go back to the library, try to find the publication read the details about that study, take notes of that I’ve put everything onto a three by five cards, I could summarize it very, very succinctly.

On the backside of the card, I would write the author and the publication, all that sort of things to find to find it again, I could. So I started doing that back in the early 1980s. It is now 40. Some years later, I am still doing that I’ve still got now I’ve got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of three by five cards, which are all categorized by topic. My wife has been very good to me and putting all this into into a document on my computer. So in case something happens to the fire or something, it’s all preserved. But I’ve got 40 years of notes on research studies. To this day, when a topic comes up, and I want to know something about that topic, I go back and pull out the file and look at all the studies that are related to that topic. That was a start for me of trying to become more scientific because I knew that everything I’d done before that was of little value. I thought I was thinking back just a couple of days ago, was there anything I learned in college, in my undergraduate years or even in my graduate years, that I think was valuable information, I cannot come up with a single thing. It was just all stuff that got me primed and started thinking about the direction I wanted to go with coaching and that that had to evolve outside of school.

Trevor Connor  14:28

You both have touched on this. That’s one of the transitions that I’ve found really addressing the history of coaching which is much newer, which is coaching used to be much more an experience thing. It was you you just worked with athletes, you saw what works you build the experience and the way you learn to be a coach was essentially to apprentice with another coach and gain from their experience. We have shifted to much more of a science based model to the point that coaching is almost more A science and analysis than anything else in vitro ism when that happen and what’s your feeling on that shift?

Joe Friel  15:07

Yeah, that’s a good point, I saw the shift taking place in the early 80s. This is about when I decided to realize I realized I had to do something to improve my my science background to become a better coach. But that’s when it was happening. And but it was just beginning, early 1980s, at least from my impression. There had been sports scientists around before that, but they really weren’t considered to be relevant in the role of sport, they were seen as being kind of, you know, on the hill, and outside of the realm of coaching are outside of the realm of sport. There’s interesting stuff that so in by the early 80s, I was seeing this, this change taking place, there was a lot more discussion about things that were coming out of science. And so yeah, that’s what that’s what begins to happen that so the 80s, and 90s is when it really takes off. By the 90s. We were deeply enmeshed in the science of coaching.

Today, I’m afraid we’ve almost gone too far. Now, we’ve almost gotten to the point now I see it as a coach needs to think they need to have a degree in a science related field to be a good coach. And that’s really not the case. I’m sure we’ll get into more details about this sort of stuff later on. But I think that’s that’s the direction we’ve gone. And we’ve simply gone overboard, I believe, when I was going back to get my coaching certificates, for example, I was amazed at how much stuff that was the science that we were talking about all the time is always the science of coaching methodologies, physiology, biology, it was always this sort of stuff we were talking about. There’s but there was so much that goes on. And coaching is not related to those things or or distantly related to those things. And we weren’t talking about those things at all. And those are things I think that perhaps we have the biggest gap in now we’ve almost gone to the opposite way of from when I was an athlete back in the 50s and 60s and 70s. We’ve now gotten to the point where science is overplayed, and we’re underplaying all the other elements of coaching that are also just as important.

Rob Pickels  17:07

Yeah, let’s take this as a jumping off point. John, I’d love to you know, you’re you’re the master of what’s happening in coaching today?

Jon Tarkington  17:14

I want to first reinforce what Joe was saying in that, I think the late 80s, early 90s was when we saw an inflection of data into endurance sports, I mean, first with the heart rate monitor as being this new data channel. And I think I was coming of age in that timeframe, I still remember getting my first heart rate monitor and you’re staring at it as you ride going, what does this mean? And I think that opened the door for the integration of science and kind of the explosion of commercial coaching. And then when power meters came and added a whole new element to that, that field got even more important where the coach served two roles, it was guide sport, but also to digest and interpret data in order to create an effective training plan. That what I kind of termed that as coaching 2.0. And at that same time was when coaching education started to become more prevalent among sporting governing bodies. And USA Cycling USA Triathlon both came out with education programs in the late 90s, early 2000s. And that was when things really started to take a step forward and formalizing coaching as kind of a profession. And so that brings us almost into today where I have to totally agree with Joe, where I see I don’t want to say a door closing, but I think we’ve been in that room, we’ve seen it, we’ve done a lot in that room, and then it’s time to go through another door. Like there’s definitely a new focus that’s going to start to take place in the hopefully near future for coaching, especially among endurance sports.

Rob Pickels  19:07

I mean, I think that there’s, there’s an interesting, I don’t want to say disconnect, right, but various aspects that play into maybe the athlete, coach, athlete, medical athlete research relationship are sometimes in different places, right? Where Joe, you kind of alluded to it before the push pull between a coach and a sports scientist, right? I think that’s still even kind of exists today. The though the sports scientists is just the theoretical, they don’t know what it’s like in the real world. And, you know, so on and so forth. So, you know, as much as we have this information to share now, as much as it’s readily available. I don’t know that everybody’s on the same page all the time between where the coaches, sometimes the coach is really on the forefront of what’s going on.

Joe Friel  19:50

That’s true. There are many coaches out there who just really blown me away with where they are right now and what they’re thinking about and what they’re talking about what they’re proposing. In an amazing world right now for being able to keep up with what’s going on in the profession, I go back to 1980s, I had to go to a library and pull out journals off the shelf, to read articles about science. Today, I can turn on my computer and go to any number of social media, and find coaches who are leading the world in the way they think about their profession, and read about what they’re thinking right now. Read about what they’re doing with their athletes, how they’re proposing, we’ve trained our athletes, it’s an amazing world. Sometimes it’s so amazing, it’s hard to keep up with any more, because there’s so many possibilities for us.

Whereas when, when I was getting started on this thing with science, there wasn’t a whole lot of avenues. I had a library in town, the College Library, and I could pick up journals in there, and I could read them. That was it, that was my only avenue. Now we’ve got all these things that are going on online, that you can use as a coach to grow yourself as a coach, the problem now is not trying to find the information, but trying to narrow down the amount of information that you’re being confronted with, because you can be overwhelmed. What’s going on in the world of coaching today is truly amazing. I’m watching all the time to see what other coaches are saying and thinking and doing. And I’m learning an awful lot. It always causes me to stop and think about the things that I’ve been doing with athletes and I’ve proposed athletes do over the years, are these things still relevant? Because the world is indeed changing?

Rob Pickels  21:29

I think a lot of these conversations that are happening that you’re seeing, especially on social media, they’re almost like the tip of the spear, right? And they’re they’re really brand new information. What I’m wondering about actually, if we can kind of start here is other pathways of knowledge for the coach, how does the coach just get the foundational knowledge that you need to know? I know most of us, John, I don’t know, if you have like an advanced degree in physiology, but the university system? That’s one way to do it is is it the best way? What are we looking at for just the foundational knowledge that a coach needs to have?

Jon Tarkington  22:01

Coach education programs through national governing bodies are one source of that information. But I think in the current era, Joe’s again, totally right, there is a plethora of ways to learn that are out there. In fact, one of the more productive timeframes I had as a coach was being part of a coaching group, which would, once a month get together meet, and one person was in charge of determining what the article was going to be. And of course, buying pastries for the morning. But we would sit around, we would all read the article, and we would sit around and discuss it. And it’s practical applicant, it’s a scientific studies, and then talk about the practical application in our coaching businesses. And so while I know social media can be a great source, I still revert back to Google Scholar as kind of the primary piece.

I mean, that’s just about every journal you could ever possibly want, you can type in three words, especially the first ones athlete, and you’ll be amazed at what you can find in there. So this concept of of what you can find in the way of information that’s trusted, that’s where I kind of see progress being made in terms of coaching, education, is moving beyond our kind of traditional NGB education models where it’s traditionally been. And for a lot of team sports, there’s some necessity to being in person and hands on. Cycling always had hands on education pieces, but it was mainly to deliver classroom education pieces. And so you know, the next phase is definitely going to be a post pandemic piece where it involves learning management systems and the ability to consume the contents that’s out there, but it’s curated in a way that people know and trust the information. They’re actually receiving.

Rob Pickels  24:01

Trevor, where, you know, John’s identifying, you know, the social, the community, all of those aspects, but you know, I know you’re somebody who has been heavily involved in higher education. Do you still see two people need to take biomechanics didn’t need to take nutrition classes? Do they need that level of just based knowledge before they become a coach?

Trevor Connor  24:19

So I was just thinking about that because to me, the the really interesting conversation point that we brought up in this podcast is that balance of the experience of the science and everybody here has been agreeing we’ve probably gone a little too heavy on the science side. A great example is that podcast we recorded not too long ago, where we were reviewing a couple studies. This was the debate between Dr. Sylar and respected exercise physiologist in England. And he in his paper literally wrote, I’m paraphrasing, but I’m not far off. He said, the whole idea of basing recommendations or a training model off of what the top athletes are doing is ridiculous. If it isn’t shown in the lab or discovered in the lab, you can’t trust it. There’s somebody basically saying, experience doesn’t matter. It’s all science. And I think it’s a balance of the two. So to answer your question, yeah, at this point, I think there’s a limit on how good a coach you can be. If you I mean, you don’t have to be get an exercise physiology degree, but you have to know some of the sides, you have to learn some of the basics. You need to learn nutrition, you can’t just say, hey, when I was over in Europe, I was taught the night before the race, don’t eat this, because then you’ll lose all your energy and don’t sleep with plants, because they suck up the oxygen, those days are done, you have to be able to go and say, Here’s what a carbohydrate is, here’s a protein is, here’s what fat is, here’s why you need them, you need that basic understanding,

Rob Pickels  25:49

well, you have to eat the plant, so you get all the oxygen to go. But I also think

Trevor Connor  25:53

if all you have as the science, without the experience side, you’re gonna end up making a lot of mistakes as a coach until you gain that experience one way or another. So actually, John, I’d throw this back to you, I’m very interested in your thoughts on how do coaches gain that experience.

Jon Tarkington  26:10

This is where it starts to get really entertaining, because we’ve just hit on a whole number of different items that I start to develop some pretty heavy thought processes on. So at least in terms of gaining education, I think the better way to go about this is let’s rewind a little bit. And what is a coach, it’s a very broad, all encompassing term, we’re trying to lump a lot under one label. And I think that’s kind of challenging. However, there are some key pieces that I think are fundamental, whether you’re coming at this from an academic side, in terms of sports science, whether you’re coming at it from I used to be an elite athlete, and I’m going to use experience to help guide my way, or I’m using, you know, whatever, whatever resources I can to gain knowledge in order to call myself a coach. And that is that coaches have a piece of identity that’s shared, where you’re giving advice to other people, and other people are listening to that advice. And there, there’s some inherent pieces to that identity, that I think need more development and more definition. And I think people need to be a lot more aware of that. And at the same time, that identity as an athlete, of someone who’s a competing athlete, like there’s intrinsic pieces that I think coaches need to be aware of. And then the relationship between those two parties, and the balance of power between those, I think that we rarely realize how much influence we have, when we take on the term coach was somebody who’s taken on the term athlete. And there’s a lot that binds us together. And I think we have a lot to learn and a lot to do. And your stories about plants sucking up all the oxygen in the room. It’s funny, but it probably was said, and somebody probably listened and believed it sport is full of fun stories like that. But in order to really keep making progress, and as you know, at least keeping move moving towards this pinnacle that I think we’ll see someday, but Joe’s right, we’re nowhere near I see this next phase going much more down a road of inter and intrapersonal development.

Rob Pickels  28:32

Yeah. And you brought up a question in Joe, I’d love to explore this with you what is a coach, right? Because I know when the image of a coach pops into my mind, it’s a person that writes training plans, a person that stands at the workout and tells you what to do maybe a person that knows a bit about sports psychology, but I don’t know that that’s a complete picture of a coach, you know, Joe, is there anything else that they need? And how today are coaches learning maybe some soft skills that they need to have on top of the training plan that we all associate with coaching?

Joe Friel  29:04

Yeah, good question. I would define a coach as basically being a generalist who has a strong background in some aspect of coaching, be it nutrition or physiology or whatever it may be. Typically, the coach today has a strong background in some aspect of preparing athletes for competition. But the primary overriding definition I think of a coach is a generalist, we’ve got to be able to deal with lots and lots of issues. We’re not just dealing with nutrition, you may be a nutritionist, but that’s not what coaching is. Coaching is a lot of things. And so the generalist I think is a way of defining that. And what I see coaching businesses doing today is they realize that the world is becoming much more complicated. They know they’ve got a strong background in some aspect of sport, but they also realize they need to be a generalist, but they can’t know the details of all these other areas that define a good coaching business. So what they do is they bring in specialists, they bring in a nutritionist who is somebody who’s working within the company in some respect, doesn’t mean they’re an employee. They may be somebody who’s working on an on an independent contractor basis or is basically provide information to athletes for free coaching or whatever it may be. It is all kinds of relationships. I see coaches working out with their specialists, to have them become a members of their coaching business, and provide that unique depth of information about some aspect of preparing an athlete for competition, which the coach is not prepared to do. We all know that we can’t know everything, it’s not possible. And yet the athlete expects us to know everything the athletes somehow thinks that a coach there because your coach, you know, everything that has to do with preparing the athlete for competition. To some extent, that’s true, but there are these areas where there are strengths and weaknesses.

The good coach, I think, is always trying to find somebody a specialist who can fill in those those gaps as weaknesses, so that the athlete is getting good preparation, good information, good training, to prepare them for the competition. That’s what I think good coaches do today. Now, when I was starting out in coaching, I had to know everything. There were no specialists, there was nobody in psychology was going to help me. There was nobody in nutrition, who was going to help me this is back in the 1980s. I had to know something about all these things. And what I discovered later on was I basically knew very little about anything. By the time I was all done, I could make up anything I wanted to and people would believe me, because there weren’t too many coaches around. I could tell the athletes, you know, you this is what you need to do before a competition, you need to, you know, don’t eat figs, the night before a competition, they’re bad for you much as having plants in your room takes away all the oxygen, the fig gives you too much too much fiber in your diet, and it won’t be ready to race. I could tell him anything, it didn’t make any difference what I told him because nobody was going to contradict me. There was nobody else out there, who has any involvement at all, and the preparation of athletes in this unique area. So I was a generalist, but I was considered to be a specialist in every area there was. Now looking back, I realize how much how little I knew about anything. And today I realize I know even less about things that I do back then it just seemed like I knew more stuff back then. So what I’ve learned to say today is I don’t know, back when I first started coaching back in the 1970s, there was no way I would ever tell an athlete I don’t know, if I didn’t know I’d make something up. And that’s what we all did as coaches and there are still coaches who do that.

Looking back. Now I realize how ignorant that was, it was really a very, very dumb thing to do. Nobody can possibly know everything. When somebody an athlete asks a coach a question, what do you think about this coach? What should I do? And you don’t know you should say? I don’t know. But I’ll try to figure it out for you, if I can, what the answer that question is, because it’s a good question. In those days, coach, he didn’t say that coaches made something up off the top of their head. And that’s what the athlete would do. The world has changed. We don’t accept that anymore. It’s not the way you coach anymore at all. So we need to learn that unfortunately, there’s still coaches who believe they know everything, or at least got to give the impression they know everything. One of the keys I’ve always found for finding a good coach is somebody that you find on Twitter, who says I don’t know, if I find a coach, he says, I don’t know when to follow this person more closely. Because that person knows something. And what they don’t know is a good indication of what they do know. Because that means they there’s something they really know very, very well. But it’s just not this one thing. And they’re truthful, that’s the most important thing to find in a coach is truth. This is what I know to be true. Now, quite honestly, what is true changes all the time. Over the years, I’ve seen so many things change in terms of how we coach athletes, how we look at data, all the stuff that we’ve been doing for many, many years. We question those things. And that’s, that’s good. That’s what we should be doing all the time is question, what we’re doing, not accept things at face value. So that’s my rant, which I always used for, for people I talked to who are coaches that first thing he always say and you don’t know is I don’t know. And that’s the starting point for figuring out the answer with the question and helping your athlete.

Trevor Connor  34:17

I read this great article probably about 10 years ago about expertise. And the thing that a couple things, that article that really had an impact on me, but one that I never forgot was it said that as you gain expertise in an area as you gain knowledge, you’re also gaining knowledge of all the things you haven’t yet learned and don’t yet know and there might not be answers to so this article made the point that when you encounter somebody who claims they know everything about a topic, they are actually not an expert, an expert will always say there’s a whole lot I don’t know,

Joe Friel  34:51

and that’s called the Dunning Kruger curve. I can’t display that right now. But the idea is that you know that when you first start out in Any feel like like coaching? In a short period of time you think you figured it all out? And now you know everything and but there’s some things begin to happen that begin to question cause you to question Do I really know everything. And then you fall from this peak of hopefully knowing everything to this valley of knowing, not really accepting that you know anything. And so you begin to think, gosh, maybe I’m not, I’m not cut out to do this, I’m not cut out to be a coach. And if you stick with it long enough, what begins to happen is the curve begins to go north again. And you begin to learn things from whatever reason it may be, we talked about these things before, be it going into your national governing bodies educational program, or going to college or reading more, or whatever may be mentorship, whatever it may be, but she begins to learn. And eventually you get to this very, very high point of knowledge in at that point, but the person says when they’re at that point on the curve is I think I know something now that that’s a big change from when they first started out. And they thought they knew everything. So they began to question themselves, the more advanced somebody is in the field, the more likely they are to realize that they don’t know the answers.

Rob Pickels  36:08

Joe, you just you brought up something that I want to touch back on. And that was specialization is almost important, right for a coach that people are becoming maybe more knowledgeable in certain areas. And I want to take that concept and turn our eyes toward the future. Is specialization within coaching. Is that a direction we should be moving for Coach education? What does the future of this looks like as we move this conversation forward?

Joe Friel  36:36

Yeah, the it’s it’s become a broader field than what it was when I was getting my, my degree or especially even getting my coaching licenses from national governing bodies. It’s changed so much since then, we’ve talked about how the emphasis seems to have been the last many years, several years on, on the science side of coaching, especially exercise physiology, you know, biology, anatomy, nutrition, methodology, all these sorts of things that we accept as being kind of at the heart of coaching. But I suppose there’s, there’s one big area we’re leaving out, that I don’t see anybody get any education at all on in any particular area have ever seen. Maybe there is someplace or doing this. And it’s the psychosocial side of coaching. The psychosocial side is extremely important. It has to do with the psychology of working with athletes and preparing athletes for competition and the social side of preparing athletes for competition. These these things are going on all the time. We’ve got the biocide is sometimes referred to as bio psychosocial, which sounds kind of like a very scientific term, and I guess it is the bio side we spent a lot of time on the psychosocial side, we’ve not done very much with at all. And that’s where I think the big gap is right now that we need to fill for, for coaches, it’s fine for Coach gets a degree in physiology, I think that’s great, or nutrition, or, or whatever the field may be, which we’ve kind of come to accept as being the ways that we prepare coaches to for their profession.

But I would add psychosocial engineers, significantly, we need to understand what’s going on with our athletes, between their ears, in their relationships, and how they, for example, the relationship with the coach athlete relationship is hardly ever talked about. That’s extremely critical to success for the athlete is how they get along with the coach. But the relationship is not all coaches and are designed to work with all athletes, we need to realize that and kind of figure out how do we go about finding the right athletes for a particular coach, or the other way around the right coach for particular athlete? This is the you know, the social side of this, how do we get along with people? I learned a long time ago that I I couldn’t coach everybody, it wasn’t going to be possible. I just there was some people I could not coach because we didn’t see the world the same way. And I had to figure out a way to make sure that I found the right athletes for me which was which was good for the for the athlete also that meant we were going to have something which is going to be productive. The athletes I had coach before that who I was not the right coach for they were not the right athlete. For me, those athletes did not perform as well as they could have had they had a coach who was more in line with their way of seeing the world and perhaps there we had seen coaching also. So that’s part of the of the coach’s responsibility, I think is to make sure you find the right right relationships. You cannot be the coach for everybody and do everybody the same amount of value or provide the same amount of value.

For every athlete, you need to find people that are right for you as a coach, and that’s that’s one of the considerations for an athlete also when I talk with athletes knave, they’ll sometimes ask how do I how do I go about finding a coach? The first thing you do is you find somebody to get along with that’s the starting point. It’s just like a, it’s like any other relationship in your life, you’ve got to get along with this person you wouldn’t marry a person that you didn’t get along with that would be the certainly the wrong thing to do. Well, this is a marriage, the coach becomes extremely valuable to the athlete becomes a big part of their life. They can find things, athletes can find things in their athlete in their coaches, that they probably don’t tell hardly anybody else, perhaps not even their spouse, I can tell you so many stories about things that athletes have told me over the years, that they would never have told somebody else other than a coach or a spouse, or perhaps a parent even. So this is a critical responsibility we have and it really comes down to the cycle social side of, of coaching, which I think we’re not doing a very good job with.

Rob Pickels  40:44

You know, John, I’d love to take this full circle, right? Because I know in our conversations, you’ve identified a lot of the things that Joe was talking about here. And I know, I hope he’s not a spoiler, but I know that you’re working on sort of a new education program for USAC. Members, what’s the future look like? How do you incorporate these things?

Jon Tarkington  41:02

Again, Joe’s right. But there’s a pretty big burgeoning field of study in academia that deals with Coach education. And what’s fascinating when you start to dive into it is you realize that there are a lot of things that are very sport agnostic, and coaching. And the and it is exactly that social, psychological and relationship aspect of it. And so there are a lot of industry standards that are being developed for coaching that don’t, again, they’re sport agnostic, and they are actually incredibly effective at highlighting areas where I would say endurance sports have traditionally fallen short, I think some team sports have done a little bit better. But then there’s other areas where team sports haven’t done as well. So yeah, one of the things we are definitely in the process of building a new coach Education and Development Program, and we’ll be integrating a number of those standards and aspects. And I think that one of the pieces we’re moving towards is a piece a linear kind of vertical pathway that does involve a core set of curriculum, it doesn’t matter what your discipline is, to be honest, wouldn’t even really matter what sport it is. But it’s it’s key pieces, as you progress as a coach that you’re able to utilize to better understand who you are, what your purpose is, who your athlete is, what their purpose is, what their goals are, how you can meet them. And then the relationship between the two, because it’s ever changing. Just because you start out with a coach and things are working out wonderfully, doesn’t mean it’s always going to stay that way, especially if one party or the other begins to kind of pull out and remove or change or, and I think often we tend to just close up in those situations. And in actuality, having harder conversations with athletes when things are changing, when competition is hard, when training is hard, when life is hard, is really going to help our industry develop more in the future. And I think it’s a piece that will help our sports develop more, and it’ll create a much better long term coach athlete relationship.

Rob Pickels  43:25

I think that recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of emphasis on the mental health side of things, right. Is that something John, you know, to take that as a topic specifically, or adjacent topics? Is that something that you see gets rolled into this coach, education curriculum, or kind of like Joe’s concept prior? Is that something that the coach maybe isn’t the person that’s really involved, but they’re identifying a specialist, and they’re handing an athlete off and they’re sharing responsibilities?

Jon Tarkington  43:55

So you’d said two words that I will probably not say, very often in my role, which is mental health or mental wellness. And I’m pretty convinced that there are certain language terms that have pieces of pretty significant bias built into them for a lot of our population. They’re right, they’re key, and they’re important, but in terms of addressing them with Coach education, you have to be a lot more subtle, the exact same way a coach has to be subtle around certain subjects. And it was pretty fascinating to hear from Dan young. He’s a retiring soon to be retired professor at I believe, Eastern Michigan, who spent his whole career studying coach education. And one of this I was at a conference and one of the audience members asked him what’s one thing you didn’t study that you wish you would have? And this was exactly it. have language and use of language and terms with which to avoid terms which to endorse. So it’s something that will be paid will pay heavy attention to. But yes, athlete health and well being is definitely a piece that’s going to factor in there. It’s already factoring in to some pretty significant changes in our high performance program. And it’ll be a foundational piece for coaching education moving forward.

Rob Pickels  45:28

And it seems like your switch, right, because I think that what you’re saying is the switching from mental health, that terminology, maybe a little bit of the negative connotations that come with that, and more into this term, well being I think, that you just used is, is a pretty fundamental shift in how you’re going about this at an NGB level.

Jon Tarkington  45:47

Correct. And I think even with Joe’s take on specialists, I know in the past, when you know, you’re you had an athlete that that realized they could use additional help, you’d refer out to a sports psychologist, but how were you integrating what they were talking about with the sports psychologist into your everyday interactions?

Rob Pickels  46:09

Not leaving it as a silo? The

Jon Tarkington  46:11

Correct, correct, I see, yes, you I think to kind of bring a bunch of the pieces together, I see there being the need for specialization and coaching, I see coaches needing to have areas that they’re passionate about, that they definitely have increased knowledge. And I will avoid using the term expertise and needing to use that as differentiating value in a very crowded marketplace. And at the same time, making sure that we avoid becoming siloed, as coaches where we have a specialty that that’s what we’re good at, we’re not good at anything else. And being able to incorporate that whole athlete component. So it’s far beyond just what I think coaching 2.0 did really well, when they when we integrated science really, really heavily we got really good at building engines. One of our coaches, coined this of the the our existing coaching education program was really good at building engines, it wasn’t really good at building an entire car. And we’ve got to get better at building an entire car. And I think the key piece in there is a really solid frame, you can change out a lot of components. But you need that solid frame from the time an athlete is, you know, identifying as an athlete early on. And as they develop that solid framework, and that’s where, again, this social, psychological, and relationship aspect comes into play. And it’s, again, something we haven’t dealt with, and I think, overall are NGB. And I think there’ll be a number of other NGBs that really start to dedicate a lot of education towards.

Rob Pickels  47:52

So it sounds like kind of the future that you’re talking about. It’s not so much topical, we got to talk about X, Y and Z. It’s almost recreating the entire education system, how you go about it, how you talk about it, it’s from the bottom up and the top down.

Jon Tarkington  48:07

I think a better way to look at it is we’re kind of taking the next step forward with coaching. And again, being sport agnostic, you can see the it’s the writing is on the wall and a lot of different areas. And I think the pandemic was a great catalyst for a lot of sports, especially endurance sports, where we, a lot of us and I don’t know if this this was true with Joe, in the spring of 2020 feared the worst that our clients were all going to leave because there were no events and so there was no need for a real focus training plan. And, in reality, the opposite happened. For most people I’ve talked to, people started coming out of the woodwork, no events, no necessary goals. They just needed guidance, and they needed somebody to talk to about something other than what was going on in the world. And their previous sporting experiences were that kind of outlet. And I think there was definitely something there that as coaches we need to realize explore a lot more and capitalize on.

Ryan Kohler  49:20

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Trevor Connor  49:51

So as we start to wrap up this episode, I can’t help but take advantage of the two people we have in the room here and I’ve got two questions I want Ask. But just to give some context, Joe, when you started out there, as you said, there was no guides, there was no information, no education at all for coaches, and you had to kind of figure it out on your own. But you became the person that provided those first guides for coaches, and you really created the professional coaching business. But John, you’ve now been given no small task of USAC has handed to you the education of all the coaches in the system. And I’ve really been given this this task of come up with a better model better than anything that that’s been done so far for educating coaches. So the two questions I want to ask, I know you’ve already answered some of this. But Joe, what advice would you have for John? And then John, the question for you is, what is it that you hope to add that’s new and hasn’t been done before, to the what’s now a whole body of coach education, knowledge that’s out there? So Joe, why don’t we start with the question to you,

Joe Friel  51:03

I guess my starting point for this is when I started thinking, I knew something about coaching, and I decided to write a book about it. This is back in the mid early 90s. And early wasn’t much out there at all. I quite honestly considered myself an imposter. People were thought my book was good. And I thought I just made stuff up and didn’t really come to me until later on that I was really Rajesh stuff that I had come to believe in. But somehow, it seemed like it was all like something I just pulled out of thin air because there wasn’t anybody else that I could views as a as a model for how to do this thing. So that’s how I have. I’ve read so many other things about people who have been in a situation like mine, where they they were perhaps among the first to do whatever they were doing. And they always thought of themselves as imposters. And somehow I think that’s probably a healthy thing. If you don’t see yourself as being an impostor.

If you see yourself as being a true expert, you know, everything, it’s better back to the Dunning Kruger curve again, and I was at a stage where I was questioning my own ability to express what I was doing. So I think that is probably a good thing that to see it that way, I would suggest that what John is talking about here, going forward with USAC is exactly what he’d be ought to be doing, which is looking taking a look at the whole program in terms of what are we trying to accomplish. For building coaching. It’s not just about preparing athletes for for a competition, it’s about building a profession. That’s what it’s all about. If we can build a profession of good coaches, knowledgeable coaches, successful coaches, happy coaches, we’re going to have something which is quite unique in the world of sport, because not all coaches can achieve those things. So I think you’re going down the right path, I’m glad to see you’re talking about doing things which are outside of the realm beyond the realm of separate looking at the exercise physiology side of perhaps or nutrition side of it, which we’ve done for now for a few decades. It’s time to start looking at things well beyond those those parameters. And I think you’re you’re talking about doing the same things I would like to see happen. So I’m very pleased with the direction that you’re going.

Trevor Connor  53:13

John, my question to you and any response to what Joe just said?

Jon Tarkington  53:18

Well, number one, I definitely appreciate the advice, it’s always good to hear advice from someone who you read his book when you’re first starting out. So it’s always incredibly good to hear that we might be on the right path. I think a better way that I have to look at this, because I am coming as a representative of USA Cycling and a national governing body is the industry developed far beyond what USA Cycling was supporting. And the I would say 2010 timeframe on it was growing far greater than just USA Cycling. Our coaching education and development area was pretty became pretty light starting in 2018. And that role has been empty for two years since the pandemic. And as a result, I think, and I’m pretty confident in this. We’ve lost a lot of trust with the coaching industry. And it’s a challenging position to be in. And so you know, as we move forward, we’re not going to be able to follow the typical pathway that was used by national governing bodies in the past, which is the stick method of involvement of unique we’ll use rules and policies to make sure that our coaches are involved with our coaching education program. Instead, we definitely have to use the carrot and we’ve got to make it look good. We’ve got to make sure that they’re involved and that they see a benefit from it. And we’ve got to do so so it still falls within USA cycling’s mission and it’s it’s kind of a challenging position to be in but it also is not Not necessarily a challenging position to be in, because USA C’s mission currently involves two primary components and that sustained international success and growing sport bike racing. And I know most coaches would not shy away from growing the sport, because it means more business for them. So as a result, you know, I think we’ve got some some common goals there. And so as I move forward with developing this, I don’t see myself as somebody with answers, I see myself and much more as a facilitator and ideally involving the coaching industry as a whole, and how this program develops, specifically, the curriculum. I don’t know what I don’t know. And I there is no way I can sit in an office and try to keep up to speed on everything going on in the coaching world. But I can try and bring along people that are very engaged and knowledgeable, and help them help us create a program that really is going to benefit the industry as a whole.

Rob Pickels  56:11

Jon, Joe, this was the conversation that I was hoping to have with both of you, I think he had some really incredible insights. You know, for the listeners who are out there and found this fascinating. Definitely check out the craft of coaching body of work that we’re putting together with Joe. It’s a multimedia experience about all different aspects of coaching not not limited to just writing training plans, but how to build a team, how to mentor athletes how to communicate all of these things. So it’s a really good in depth sort of guide that isn’t really being talked about in other outlets. But beyond that, that was another episode of fast ha. Subscribe to fast talk. Wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talker are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join and become a part of our coaching and education community for Joe Friel, who has helped us get to where we are today, Jon Tarkington, who’s going to take us into the future. And Trevor Connor, who has no part in this. I’m Rob Pickels. Thanks for listening!

Trevor Connor  57:22

Thanks, Rob.