The importance of being informed...

Whatever the nature of the sport, the coaching structure and system of athlete support, a full 360 degrees of mutual understanding should ultimately be the goal for all parties involved (athlete, coach, practitioner). The nature of this necessity for common understanding and the ability to communicate in a shared language has unique aspects according to member of the team concerned.

Beginning with the athlete, there is clearly a need for a level of understanding of the technicalities of their sport and their role from a tactical and competition context. This implies a need to acquire a level of coaching knowledge. At the very least the athlete needs to have a clear understanding of what the coach requires of them and the rationale behind it.

Knowing the 'why' as well as what the coach is trying to achieve is very powerful. This a key factor in determining what level of traction the message or coaching intervention ultimately has with the athlete.

From the athlete's viewpoint it is equally important to gain a level of understanding of each aspect of their physical performance and the factors which support it. In turn, ultimately the success of any interaction and intervention from any of the practitioners and support staff is predicated upon the athlete having a clear idea of the purpose and intention that lies behind it.

Once more this implies a need for the athlete to be informed on the fundamentals of the particular area of sports science, sports medicine, therapy, nutrition etc. Only in this way will the support they receive in the respective area be most effective.

Turning our attention now to practitioners and associated support staff, the knowledge their possess in their own field of expertise is only as meaningful as their ability to communicate the essential information to the coaches and athletes they support. 

Let the main thing stay the main thing
— Brendan Venter MD

In the same way, in order to operate effectively and for the coach and athlete support structure to function properly, each member of staff must understand context of the realms in which they operate.

A first step is for the practitioner to be aware enough to recognise their own work in the context of the overall priorities of the athlete, the coach, and the situation at hand. This demands not only humility but empathy. There is an argument that if the practitioner or member of support staff lacks the emotional intelligence to be a 'coach' they have no business interacting directly with the athlete. 

Operating effectively also necessitates a breadth and depth of knowledge of the sport and competition environment in which the athletes and coaches operate. Ultimately everything practitioners do is to support the coach and the athlete, so understanding the necessary details and the specific objectives of the coach and athlete is essential.

Equally the onus is on the practitioner to educate and inform both coach and athlete so that they recognise the value of the support that is on offer and how it might make them better able to prepare and compete in their sport.

Do coaches need to be therapists, nutritionists or biomechanists? No. But they should have a good understanding to be able to communicate with their network of people
— Dan Pfaff

Moving on finally to the coach, as the leader and director of the programme the coach must possess the greatest array of knowledge spanning across a number of different areas.

When operating in a multidisciplinary team a key role of the coach is that of gate keeper. It is very difficult to steer and make informed decisions on what support the athlete is exposed to and when if you only have a vague idea of what each practitioner involved actually does.

It is clearly critical for the coach to possess a level of understanding of each respective area in order to be able to select the best support for their athletes. Likewise in the interests of quality control, their knowledge must be sufficient that they are able to distinguish good versus poor practice. 

A key element of directing athlete support is therefore having the essential knowledge to be able to interrogate each member of the support team. Clearly an understanding of the terms involved is helpful in this way, so that coach and practitioner are speaking the same language.