The Collision of Art And Science When Coaching Kids

Can Art Outweigh The Science When Coaching Young Athletes?

The science of speed training tells us that athletes perform best when not in a state of fatigue. And that sufficient recovery between efforts is crucial for successful speed development.

I do not doubt the accuracy of this advice. But is there ever an occasion when the science should be sidelined?

Weighing Up The Options

Sometimes, feeling guilty, I have disregarded the science in preference to trusting my sense of the art of coaching. It all has to do with priorities, session momentum, and the temperament of the athlete/s in question.

I understand the argument for sufficient recovery for maintaining high-quality physical efforts. But has anyone looked at whether this consideration outweighs the psychological effect of interrupting sessions, and whether this factor might vary from athlete to athlete? Especially with kids. I’ve wondered if the science always suits the individual.

When The Science Doesn’t Suit

I’ve coached athletes who consistently struggle to maintain quality efforts after an enforced recovery break. Faithfully sticking to the science, I have interrupted a good series of efforts by an athlete to impose the recommended recovery time, only for their subsequent efforts to be of a lower standard.

Hence, in these situations, I have begun to give more discretion to the athlete. With particular individuals, I ask them when they are ready for the next effort. Often what they choose would be considered by the science as “under-recovering”. But it seems to work for them.

When coaching kids in a grassroots participation environment, I will almost always prioritise session momentum over the recommended recovery guidelines. Kids just want to keep going — so I let them.

So, if you sense that the science of coaching is not suited to a particular situation should you remain a slave to the science? Does the science always suit the individual? Or do you stick to your coaching intuition?

I’m certainly not talking about irresponsibly denying or deliberately defying the science. I’m talking about weighing the situation up carefully, deciding what is best for the athlete and being able to convincingly justify your decision. Your sensitivity to a situation may surpass the science.

Blending Coaching Art And Science

Coaching science is unquestionably crucial in guiding our coaching methods. My first stop is always the science. It provides proven parameters for coaches. But I’m not convinced that we should always blindly bow down to it, particularly until the context of the coaching is taken into account. The participants, their priorities and their personalities must always help shape our coaching decisions. A blending of science and art seems to be the sensible solution.

Over To You!

I welcome your input. What are your experiences? Am I totally missing something? I would love to hear from you.

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.


Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, Anchor or via email.

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