Adaptability part 2: The Athlete (and a few coaching principles to live by)

In the last post (part 1), I tried to highlight the importance of being adaptable as an S&C coach by illustrating some examples and exercises based on my experiences.  Mostly this was focussed around adapting to technical coaches.  In this post I’m going to focus on the athlete and try to illustrate that whilst theoretical case studies are great at university, in the real world nothing ever goes perfectly to plan and physical development is a messy non linear process.

nothing goes to plan

I think its best to start by highlighting an awesome article on periodisation by John Kiely (which I also reviewed on the podcast).  It’s one of the best articles you’ll find on the subject so please give it a read if you haven’t already.  John basically outlines that planning is important but traditional periodisation models are largely outdated.  The most important concepts to include are enough variation and coach who’s in front of you.  Hopefully you’ll see through the examples in this article what I mean by coaching who’s in front of you.

So here’s something I say all the time:

As Brian Tracey describes in his book “GOALs”, an essential part of planning is understanding that there will always be setbacks.  Acknowledging this in advance and preparing for it will make dealing with such obstacles so much easier along the way.  Hence don’t just be adaptable, be ready to be adaptable, have back up plans and be prepared to change what you’re doing to suit all kinds of different situations.

The next and possibly most important thing I want to highlight is that I believe my job, indeed my purpose is to help get the best out of people.  That applies both on a daily basis and to long term performance/achievement.  So in light of any situation where the athletes I work with aren’t in top form or the best of moods, my role isn’t to ensure they stick to the programme or prescribed reps/sets/loads, but to enable them to give their best on that day that is in line with long term objectives.


I feel it’s best to illustrate the rest of this post through a few philosophical principles:

  1. A good night’s sleep is important, but never guaranteed.  We all know about the important role sleep plays in recovery.  Indeed I’m sure most of us educate our athletes on the area and have optimal sleep protocols to maximise the quality of a good night’s sleep.  Things like black out curtains and no smart devices before bed should be common place.  That being said it can’t always be guaranteed.  Car alarms can go off, anxiety/nerves can get in the way and sometimes there’s seemingly no reason at all.  Which means that whilst it’s nice to have all your athletes enter the gym bursting with energy for every session, it doesn’t always happen.  It’s not their fault, that’s just life and we need to deal with it by adapting to who’s in front of us and how they feel each day.
  2. All stress is cumulative and contributes towards physical and mental fatigue.  Whether it be an argument with parents or girlfriends, bad traffic or car problems, a mild cold or something more serious, internal or external pressure, it all adds up.  Sometimes athletes will want to get on with training to escape the stress, other times they just won’t be in the mood.  We can track training loads, fatigue and wellness as much as we want to get a better picture.  Building genuine relationships and listening will probably tell us more but we’ll never see everything and nor should we.   There will always be external influences so focus on what you can control and adapt to what you can’t.
  3. Never add unnecessary stress.  With the above being said, it should make sense that as a coach, I don’t need to add to this.  We all have moments when we’re disappointed with our athletes, they might be consistently late, lazy or make a number of bad choices.  How you deal with this is extremely important.  The advice I give myself is to NEVER REACT, instead if something needs to be said, wait to take appropriate action at the right time with a positive growth mindset.yesterday i was clever
  4. No one’s perfect.  Everyone makes mistakes and slips up from time to time, it’s part of being human.  Whether that’s missing the bus or forgetting some lifting shoes, small mishaps are insignificant in the grand scheme of things.   What’s important is for us to learn from our failures and help our athletes learn from theirs so that we can avoid similar situations in the future and continue our journey of personal development.
  5. Shit happens.  Whilst there can be little problems there can also be huge road blocks that mean you need to take an entirely different route to reach your destination.  I’m mostly thinking here that injuries happen, it’s the nature of sport.  Unfortunately it’s sometimes the nature of training too, especially when it involves everything from gymnastics to skateboarding, downhill mountain bike and the sport itself.  Also worth noting that in my experience FOOTBALL is highly dangerous!!  For some reason no matter where or what sport I work with, I always see athletes get injured playing football.  Naturally we should do what we can to minimise the risk in advance, but it can’t always be avoided.  The important message to portray is that INJURY = OPPORTUNITY.  There’s always a way to come back fitter and stronger than you were before.
  6. Be prepared.  Bearing in mind that shit happens and no one’s perfect, we can anticipate problems and be prepared.  Ok so you can’t prepare for everything, but you can prepare for a lot.  Educate athletes how to warm up so they know what to do when they’re late for the group warm up or indeed if you’re the one having car troubles.  In fact ensure competence and understanding in all movements should they need to train alone.  Have alternative sessions planned in case of last minute injuries, niggles or pain and always be aware of other methods to reach the same objective.  Have off-feet sessions or single limb sessions planned should you need them.  Have a back up venue/training space should there be a problem with yours.  Keep spare equipment when possible should something brake or someone forget theirs.  Identify several different logistical solutions when space and equipment is limited.  Set up the gym in advance and make sure things go back in the right place at the end.  And in the words of Mike Young, “make it idiot proof!”  Especially if it involves technical equipment such as jump mats, GymAwares or Push bands.
  7. Be flexible & utilitarian.  It’s not about what’s best for you it’s about what’s best for them.  Sometimes things come before physical training, in the case of young athletes, school often comes first and in the case of senior pros, press conferences and sponsorship deals can get in the way.  Not to mention technical sessions of course!  Quite often you need to make sacrifices for the greater good.  If an athlete can’t make a session because of an exam or press interview then rearrange it so they can, you wouldn’t want a regular 9-5 office job anyway.  If you can’t do morning aerobic sessions because they have school everyday, then write the best programme you can around it and if the gym isn’t available exactly when you want it, you’ll have to use it when it is available.  Remember physical training is just one part of a much larger puzzle and you can change it’s shape to make sure it fits.

  8. Clarity of outcome.  Now here’s an EIS motto I’ve stolen.  And Alex Wolf talks all about Clarity of outcome vs number of solutions in his incredibly popular podcast episode here.  For me, if you don’t know where you’re heading, it’s pretty difficult to plan how to get there.  When the whole team are involved in defining the objective, they’ll better understand when you need to make changes that ensure you stay on track too.  Either way, the clearer your desired outcome, the easier it is to plan the best solution and make appropriate changes to those plans when you need to along the way.
  9. Don’t have an ego!  Whilst I may be the most qualified to plan physical training, monitor athlete wellbeing and coach movement in my organisation, I’m happy to admit I certainly don’t always know best.  I hope some athletes are in tune with their bodies enough to know when they need to push harder and when they need to ease off; and technical coaches can give the greatest insight to the sport which should massively influence coaching decisions.  Don’t be afraid to bin a training session if athletes need a break or change the schedule if a better option presents itself.  Listen to who you work with with an open mind; always try to see things from different perspectives to gain a better picture and thus make better decisions. 
  10. Focus on what you can control, adapt to what you can’t.  I’ve mentioned this already but it’s worth it’s own point.  Worrying about things out of your control is futile.  The most important thing we learn from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is that we can always choose our attitude and indeed how we deal with things.  So be a problem solver, find solutions, when the boat steers off course, reroute and you can always do your best with what you’ve got.socrates
  11. Focus on the process, not the outcome.  It’s important to have goals and objectives but there’s enough psychological material nowadays to support that it’s far better focussing on the process, on making progress and moving in the right direction rather than long term, distant objectives that may seem hard to achieve.  Here’s a fantastic quote from Saracens’ CEO, Edward Griffiths, who have of course just won the European Cup:saracens
  12. No man ever steps in the same river twice.  For it is not the same river and he is not the same man.  This one’s quite simple, just because one solution worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will again and vice versa.  Always take a fresh approach to the situation in front of you.  By all means past experiences and evidence inform your decision making but no 2 problems are ever the same.heraclitus107157
  13. Appreciate the journey, where we’ve come from and that we’re always getting better.  Appreciation is such a powerful tool for happiness in life.  Make a point of reflecting on the progress you’ve made, what you’ve achieved and how you are continuing to do so.  Enable your athletes to do the same.  It is well worth it.
  14. Give my best to enable them to be better at being their best.  Finally this is my coaching purpose.  In fact I believe this is my purpose, my “why” in life.  It’s where I find reward and satisfaction.  It’s what I believe and a daily mantra if you can call it that.  Living to this and aligning my decisions to this makes sure what I do, how I adapt and the changes I make are all for the right reasons.  It brings clarity, peace of mind and makes working with like minded people thoroughly enjoyable.

I hope that gives a good summary of some principles I base my daily decisions on.  As with all philosophies, it’s ever evolving and this is just one area of coaching.  On a selfish note, writing this down certainly helps set things clear in my head even if you don’t find it interesting.  In future I shall largely be working on writing much shorter articles!  I know I can improve at being more concise and to the point.  Thanks for reading and catch you again soon.



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Filed under Development, Strength & Conditioning, The Internship

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