As promised, this is the first of posts on topics from the USATF National Podium Education Project held in Las Vegas, December 2007. In upcoming posts, I will distill some key learning points on various topics and how it applies to you.
Let me first state the intent of the Podium Education Project is to promote the highest level coaching across the nation in order to develop our elite runners into Olympic podium winners – that is medalists in the Olympic Games. This three-to-six day program (depending on your focus areas – throws, sprints, jumps, endurance) was free to USATF & college coaches and underwritten by the USATF. Attendees just had to pay for hotel and food; ok, and gambling habits.
Attendee Demographics: The attendees came from around the nation. Most major colleges and universities were represented. Elite post-collegiate program (i.e. Nike, Olympic training centers, etc.) coaches were in attendance. A smaller group of club coaches were there. My observation is that a larger than average percentage of the attendees had advanced degrees in physiology, kinesiology, psychology or the like. It was also a Who’s Who of current and former Olympians.
The sessions went from morning to night – 8:00 AM – 9:30 PM – and were packed with timely research-based information (often research data was culled from 2006-2007 studies). Most presenters were Ph.D.s in their fields or current coaches of Olympians. There were opportunities to talk directly with coaches of all levels. The elite coaches shared training approaches, philosophies and some wonderful anecdotes (behind the scenes) about some of our popular Olympic level athletes. We were also treated with some interesting information on preparations (athletes & teams) for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Before I begin posting on some of the technical information from the conference, I want to share some observations regarding the information shared. There is no doubt that genetics play a strong role in ability to not only be an elite runner but also to be able to tolerate the amount of training required to get there (i.e. stay healthy long enough). Training philosophies are not the same even at the elite level. There were some advocates of high mileage as well as higher quality. The high-mileage advocates still quote many anecdotal reasons (i.e. “the Kenyans do it”) for their emphasis, which I found curious in light of current research. On the other hand, what I found is that even the high mileage advocates did large amounts of quality workouts and they admitted that they did that year round. It was reinforced that not all research studies are created equal (i.e. some still quote studies of limited subjects, mouse subjects, untrained subjects). Therefore, be careful what information you use. To wit, Robert Vaughn Ph.D. (physiologist) had a good quote: “If you lay every physiologist end-to-end you wouldn’t reach a conclusion.”
It was stated and reinforced several times that there is no single approach, philosophy or coach that will work for everyone. The object of sharing all this information is for the coach to use the science in the “art of coaching!” Since the best runners are rarely self-coached, the chemistry and trust must be there for both. Most elite runners in fact have had several coaches (though one Olympic gold medalist had only one coach starting at age 11, for his 14 years of competitive running). To be effective however with your coach, there is no substitute for feedback. Coaches do not read minds. This requires frequent high quality communication between the athlete and coach. This allows the coach to ply his “art.”