Several weeks ago I brought to light and questioned the Australian Rugby Team training in the gym.
There was nothing surprising about it to me, the revelation that we are still grazing on the low slopes of technical proficiency across the coaching skill landscape has long been plain to see. But it is necessary from time to time to point that out, else the regular public be under a misapprehension and assign authority based on job hierarchy rather than competence; an assessment that I invite anyone to make starting with the article linked above.
The question remains for everyone, does that look well coached to you? and something worth emulating?
Not completely unexpectedly, there are people who will necessarily need to defend the status quo. We can only speculate that is is because they have hitched their wagon to the pathway of that industry. If one hopes to make a mark and ascend to the heights of professional physical preparation, they must climb the ranks using the ladder rungs provided. A prohibition on ridicule and reverence to the pathway will become necessary, in fact all that is tolerated.
Immediately after my post, the evidence for the prohibition on criticism started to turn up. Notice in particular the avoidance of engaging on the content of the observations. It wasn’t that the article was incorrect, it wasn’t a case where, “Actually, I think you’re wrong. look again, that is exactly how it should be done.” criticism was instead, not allowed. It became necessary to write a whole blog post on the subject which I called, ‘Fitness Counter-Errorism: Graffiti, Trolling, Satire, Contradiction and Polemic Contrarianism in Internet Exercise.’
Just this weekend, and perhaps the reason for this most recent posting, the Rugby World Cup came to its conclusion. Australia vs New Zealand in the final and New Zealand winning 34-17. The result in no way contributes the relevance of the original article. The original article commented on the skills and conduct of general preparation and as noted at the bottom….
The Wallabies may win the World Cup, yes, this training won’t make that much difference. Kicking, passing, tackling, ruck and maul skills, injuries, penalties will all be more important. But if you are saying that you are training for your sport, and you are using skills to complete that task, shouldn’t you be able to muster a standard that puts you above the local soccer team?
Anyway, we got a nice reaction from ‘Rugby Strength Coach’. I guess its nice that someone paid attention. Which in the spirit of fair use I will reply to below, just in case someone puts the two thing together and was misinformed about the whole situation:
However one thing that particularly pissed me off was a blog post of outright criticism from one coach, who took the time to dissect almost every second of the 2 minute video to point out how tremendously flawed this particular coach and the system being used is, and how he could do a much better job.
Au contraire, the issue I have is that there are literally hundreds of privateer coaches who could do a better job. That is the problem.
For the record I’m not friends with anyone involved here, and I can agree with several points that are made in this blog post:
- The science behind this system is a little shaky, because it relies on proprietary software and unpublished data. I’d also question its ability to truly predict injury risk when previous injury history, left-right asymmetry and movement technique are not taken into account. It’s quite a point to concede, especially in light of the criticism of my criticism. So we agree on this point.
- No, the programmes aren’t individualised. But they certainly aren’t cookie cutter. My understanding is that they divide athletes into groups according to their “force signature” and provide progressions/regressions of exercise groups depending on the magnitude of the imbalance. Whether the programs are ‘individualized’ or ‘cookie-cutter’ is beside the point; that what appeared to me and others as disorganized unskilled work being overlooked is the point. The range of programming and testing apparatus was being promoted but the practice was hardly something worth emulating: And I would say, contemptible. One moment preaching injury prevention and dazzling the viewer with coachspeak about impressive sounding programming and techniques whilst in practice, inefficiency reigns.
- No the form isn’t the best at times. There are little things that could be better, but I’ve seen worse and it certainly isn’t what I would term as unsafe. These guys get paid to run into other men at full speed for a living. I can handle a slightly-off rack position in a clean or front squat. Considering that this was the flagship men’s rugby program in the nation, full of professionals who have been part of the code’s ‘ELEEEEET’ development programs; I would HOPE that you’ve seen worse. This should be the opposite of that, and it won’t escape everyone’s notice that you at least conceded that the practice of the lifting skills, ‘…isn’t the best…’
- What goes on in the gym is a small, small piece of injury prevention. For me what is far more important is controlling the total work load that players are exposed to, and the quality of their nutrition, hydration, rest and medical support, and their stress outside of training. To chalk injury prevention up to one programme is a little reductionist I think. Agreed. I would just like it to be consistent across the board. That what is selected is done in a way that can be aspired to and is efficient for the premier professional Rugby program in the country.
In the interests of balance I decided to check out the coach behind this blog post. He certainly makes some very good points in his writing and his athletes post some very impressive strength numbers in the gym. It’s not the numbers, it’s the efficiency of the work.
However I quickly realised that all the videos were of the same three athletes again and again. The same three American football players: athletes who enjoy an extremely long preparatory period, who have only a few physical qualities to worry about in their training, who can train all day long, under the watchful eye of a coach with a coach:athlete ratio of 1:3, who only has to worry about what he wants to do. And yet there are still plenty of little technical flaws in how his athletes lifted and moved that I could pick on- very easy to do from the comfort of a keyboard. My best athletes are amateurs and my coach to athlete ratio this week is 1:93, which is normal. They all either work or study full time. That is the people you are talking about. They train before or after work or study. They do not have all day. The footage is a salient representation of the efficiency that I think is possible from just about anyone. It is not spectacular, it should be common practice. So whilst you made a guess that my athletes have ‘all day to train’ you were wrong, where my assertion that the Wallabies ARE professionals still holds true. Besides, at the time of your writing there were 13 different people on my instagam page so I think this whole point should probably be retracted. I’m also not sure why you think an American Football player has only a few physical qualities to worry about.
Now let’s contrast this to professional rugby. You don’t have three athletes, you’ve got between 20-40 at a time. They all play for different clubs, and have different levels of experience and skill in the gym. You’ve only got about 3 weeks in total to prepare for a major international competition. You’ve got roughly three hours a week to get your prep in and that number will only ever go down, not up. Let’s also not forget that rugby, and what the rugby coach wants, comes first. All you do is support.
Apples and oranges. You may be able to do a great job with your best three athletes in the perfect training environment, good for you. But do not use it to judge someone on their worst athletes in an environment with totally different demands. Again, my coach to athlete ratio this week is 1:93. There are many technical flaws that I am not happy with, but in most cases they are in my window of tolerance or they are occurring and being coached in real time. Most of the videos you see of my gym are limit or near limit lifts where these will be most evident. My worst athletes are totally uncoached, presenting on Day #1 as not even novices. They’re not athletes. They are not pre-selected. They are not the genetic elite. They are not and never will be professional.
Personally I see stuff in some of my sessions every day that would embarrass me if somebody filmed it. I would be surprised if 99% of coaches didn’t feel the same. But the important thing is that they are better now than when I started, and I expect they will be better in a year’s time than they are now. Judging a coach from a snapshot of one training session is worthless without the context of knowing if they are steadily improving. It’s like reading one page of a novel and pretending you know the ending. Let’s make this very very clear. Once again we’re talking about the cream of the crop rugby program in Australia. I leave it to the fair-mindedness of the viewer. If they think that the team in that footage looked well-coached then they are entitled to take that position. There are however a growing number of privateer coaches who are able to achieve, by contrast, excellent efficiency in their coaching.
When is it OK to criticise coaches?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying criticising coaches should be off limits. I’m all for it, especially with the number of bad coaches out there, who occupy jobs that could be given to more accomplished individuals. However I think we need to establish some criteria first:
- No snap decisions. Did my blow-by-blow account look like a snap decision to you?
- Before criticising, you have to have truly observed a coach for multiple sessions. The longer the better. I don’t need multiple angles to see that a bridge has collapsed. You don’t either. Every day, judges, referees and officials make instantaneous assessments on bodies in competition, their timing and positions again and again. Often summing up what are months and years of preparation. It is not hard to do.
- Are their athletes consistently improving in the relevant areas? Yes? So the F what. Stagnating or getting worse? Fire away. (I hope you don’t think its rude to answer a question with a question.) Is there any bottom limit to this? How badly could someone perform skills they have selected before critique would be acceptable?
- Do you have a realistic suggestion or solution to offer about how to improve things? If not, keep your mouth shut. If you criticise others, you have a duty to advance the field at the same time. Criticism is educational. Mockery plays a role in actually forcing a reader to reassess whether they go along with what they are seeing and reading, or not. Endless Pollyanna treatment is probably worse.
- Keep the criticism to a person’s work, not qualities as a person. Criticism is going to end up getting taken personally. If it’s that egregious then I’m not the one who should apologize. Don’t put it up on the net.
- Don’t be a dick. Well at least he didn’t drop a c-bomb on me.
The coach to athlete ratio is an interesting point. The problem with it is the same problem that I have with group fitness training sessions and why I don’t do them. You can’t get any quality work done. That occurred to me long ago. I didn’t wait till I was S&C coach of the Wallabies and keep doing it. Clearly you can see the results. “We’re going to push press.” So what if some privateer can get a kid to push press better in 1 day than the combined Australian professional Rugby scene can achieve in a career? Maybe that would be cause to say, ‘maybe we’re structuring things poorly.’
We are indeed comparing apples and oranges, the problem is that the apples you are talking about are pro Rugby players, and my oranges are kids off the street. If the Wallabies were in a junk yard somewhere, picking up bits of old cars and appliances then I wouldn’t be able to comment on it in quite the same way. But if they choose something, and decided either not to coach it or coach it poorly; Here we are.