Updated: Jan 21
You cannot become an elite athlete overnight. It takes a long period of constant training that is periodized and specific to your goals. If you do not have the desire and motivation to succeed, you will start being inconsistent, and before long, you will end up quitting. Having the right knowledge early on can help you avoid detours that can hinder your consistency and motivation. Prospective coaches have now advanced degrees, masters, and even doctorate studies. This fact alone highlights the importance of gaining knowledge to plan the best possible training programs for athletes. During their studies, coaches cover multiple disciplines, including training theory, nutrition, injury prevention, recovery, psychology, physiology, and biomechanics. However, as they go deeper into their studies, they will choose to specialize in one key area. The truth is that you cannot be an expert at everything. However, even though being an expert at everything is practically impossible, having a fundamental understanding of different areas is very important.
Missing out on a key area can be the difference between winning and losing. Every piece of information can be detrimental to your training as everything is linked together. Physiology is linked to athletic success; Biomechanics is linked to the learning of new skills, and we cannot hope to achieve either if we are constantly injured (thus knowledge on injuries and injury prevention is also key) and without being psychologically prepared. The importance of nutrition for athletic success has also been repeatedly scientifically proven. Therefore, athletes are usually supported by a team of professionals which include coaches, physiotherapists, performance analysts, sports scientists, nutritionists, and psychologists.
Having a team of professionals is not always possible for every athlete. Therefore, they may be forced to study multiple areas. These athletes usually become the best coaches as they delve deeply into the path of acquiring new knowledge. Whilst specializing in one area is indeed important, these athletes often do not have a choice as they need to expand their repertoire. In this blog, we will delve deep into various aspects that are important for athletes, whilst we also analyze how different disciplines link together.
The human body is a complex system. The problem with being an expert in one particular area is that it reduces this complex structure into individual parts and oversimplifies how the body works. However, the body is anything but simple, and focusing on only one key area can lead you to miss important information. This has led to the rise of the term expert-generalist. This means that although a coach may still specialize and be an expert in one area, he or she may still have a general understanding of different areas related to training.
Do not get me wrong, specializing is still very important. The most amazing inventions such as medicine, planes, cars, and computers have been created by specialists. However, the problem arises when an expert decides to overspecialize and chooses to ignore other important variables that may also be occurring in the body. It continues to amaze me how many doctors for example have little knowledge on nutrition and physical activity, even though many diseases are related to lack of these two. Both nutrition and physical activity can help treat health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Instead many doctors choose to prescribe solely pills to these conditions and fail to direct patients to increase their physical activity and improve their eating plans. Learning something from one field can be applied to other fields as well.
Athletes and coaches with a wide area of knowledge can often see the bigger picture and not make any assumptions based on their area of expertise. For example, a runner may report having knee pains. A physiotherapist may analyze if there are any problems within the actual structure of the knees whilst a coach may analyze the running technique. It could also be a combination of both so having a wide area of knowledge will help you analyze a variety of variables without being limited to a particular bias. Whilst nutritionists will be the ones that will specialize in nutrition, knowing the fundamentals of nutrition can also help coaches and athletes better prepare a balanced lifestyle plan with good nutritious, unprocessed foods to improve performance. Simple changes such as switching to whole and unprocessed food can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. It is also important to note that a nutritionist will have different goals than a coach or an athlete. A nutritionist’s goal may be to improve the health and performance of the athlete whilst the athlete’s and coach’s goals may be to win a major competition. Therefore, coaches and athletes may opt to include ‘unhealthier’ solutions to the diet such as drastically cutting down food to make weight, including some supplements that may not be entirely healthy but might improve performance, or include high calorie processed foods to reach the high energy demands required by athletes. That is why apart from having a fundamental understanding of nutrition, coaches and athletes need to work together with a specialized team including nutritionists to help guide them to healthier and sustainable solutions. Developing a network with other professionals can help you seek assistance when needed and ask for a different point of view about a problem to gather different perspectives.
Studying different disciplines will give you an advantage over people who overspecialize only in one area. It will give you the tools to solve different performance-related problems, and most importantly, new knowledge will help you pave your way to the very best version of yourself. Complex problems rarely are derived from a single cause. The way forward is to connect multiple disciplines. Albert Einstein was quoted saying “I am neither clever nor especially gifted. I am only very curious.” The advantages of having a curious mind and thinking more deeply are many. It helps with making the correct assumptions. A coach with an open mind will critically analyze why an athlete is struggling and look at the bigger picture. Is it due to nutrition or a lifestyle-related problem? Is it physical or psychological? Could it be a medical problem? Could it be due to poor recovery? Ultimately, a coach will refer the athlete to an expert related to that hunch. If the coach sees that the athlete is following a poor diet, he or she would refer the athlete to a sports and exercise nutritionist. If the problem is related to poor confidence or self-esteem, the coach would refer the athlete to a sports psychologist. A coach needs to have a good network. It is important to be humble enough to ask for help and understand that even though you may have a general understanding of a subject, it is an expert that will help you fix the problem. However, by expanding your knowledge on different areas, you can be part of the decisions that are being made about your health and performance and make better decisions.
Thanks for reading, and as always stay fit!