Science vs. Art of coaching- What actually is Science?

1 comments


While reading the Carl Sagan book The Demon Haunted World, which is a classic about science, pseudoscience, and technology, I came across a section in which Sagan essentially discusses how science develops and what it actually is. His argument is that it’s really a method of seeing the world. Science isn’t the rote memorization and recitation of facts or the publication of experiments in journals, but a way of thinking. While there’s nothing new about this argument, I think it’s a clear enough distinction that is often forgotten in the world of declaring one a scientists because you have some advanced degree. In particular, one of the examples he used struck home.

            Sagan brought up the now well known story of African tribes hunting and tracking techniques. He takes us through how anthropologist study a particular tribe, the !Kung San people, as they tracked animals. What caught their eye was the in depth, and accurate, way in which the hunters tracked animals. They could distinguish the type of animal, if it was hurt, how long ago it passed through, the  direction it went, and numerous other details just by a simple glance at the tracks and surrounding areas. While, we’re accustomed to seeing this in movies, when evaluated for how they did this, there were explanations of the depth of the depressions, the symmetry, whether there was “erosion” or a layer of dirt in the tracks, the swerve of the tracks and numerous other complex metrics. To accurately interpret all of this data, Sagan points out, the trackers would need to understand how the sun moves across the sky (for identification of wear shade is) during different parts of the year, how subsurface moisture impacts tracks, how different soil craters, and so forth. In essence, Sagan’s point:

“Is this really science? Does every tracker in the course of his training sit on his haunches for hours, following the slow degradation of animal footprint? When the anthropologist asks this question, the answer given is that the hunters have always used such methods. They observed their fathers and other accomplished hunters during their apprenticeships. They learned by imitation. The general principles were passed down from generation to generation. The local variance- wind speed, soil moisture- are updated as needed in each generation, or seasonally, or day-by-day…But modern scientist do just the same…”

Sagan goes on to compare this technique to how scientist judge craters in the moon in the same way that these trackers judge “craters” from animal tracks. But his point, is; these trackers developed this “scientific method” because of necessity. The good ideas (i.e. if the track is fresh, there’s no dust in it) survived because it increased the likelihood of catching the animal, while the bad ideas didn’t survive or get passed on. The tracking skills were refined over generations towards what worked best.

Further supporting this idea, Sagan points out that “Botanists and anthropologists have repeatedly found that all over the world hunter-gatherer peoples have distinguished the various species with the precision of Western taxonomist.”

He concludes with “By his criteria hunter-gatherers ought to have science. I think they do. Or did.”

That statement is rather profound. Here we have a scientific titan, Carl Sagan, declaring that a group most of us would declare as 'primitive' have their own method of “science.”

What’s this got to do with coaching?
That lesson is one that translated rather nicely to the world of coaching. 

As I mentioned in a recent piece on Science vs. Coaching, I think sometimes we get stuck into this idea that science is the equivalent of journal articles and complex language that only experts truly understand. People only think you are a “scientific coach/person/whatever” if you follow exact evidence based methods where you take whatever is in a journal as your method of training.

Instead, I prefer to follow Sagan’s ideas.

Similar to how hunter-gatherer’s refined their tracking skills and methods through evolutionary pressure to survive so that successful ideas stuck around , while less successful ones were discarded, coaching has followed a similar path.

Although that path is skewed and takes a wrong turn every once in a while, either by drug coaches/athletes distorting attainable training, popular fads that have limited success but a great presentation, or anything along similar lines; overall the good ideas stick around and the bad ideas get dropped. There is a selective pressure that drives coaching methods because in the end people want to succeed. The success gets imitated to a slightly larger degree than the unsuccessful; therefore the likelihood of a successful method gets passed on more readily increases.

I know I’ve discussed this at length, but it’s an important concept, so I’m going to hammer home on it.

Training knowledge evolves. It hasn’t been hundreds or thousands of years in refinement, but still we can see how training theory has changed appreciably over the past 100+ years. With each generation comes improvements (and wrong turns), but for the most part the improvements tend to outweigh the drawbacks. So we continually refine that process.

It's this evolutionary system that makes training development a science. It's a science in the same way that the hunter gatherers developed their skills. As coaches, we are figuring out what works so that we can survive. If what we do doesn't work, our methods are simply weeded out. Yes, there will be wrong turns, like the 1990's training era in the U.S., but corrections will be made. And overall, we're in a better place now than we were decades before. Not because of actual scientific research, but more so because of this natural evolutionary pressure that is exerted on training.

For the scientist, this means, recognize this process. It's like a multi-decade long study where we get clear data on what most likely works. Don't discount it because of the lack of hard theory, research, or data behind it.  For the coaches, look through history. Understand where we came from, so that we can know where to go.

There is value in understanding the path we’ve travelled to end up where we are training wise, where the wrong turns were, why they were made, and whether or not some pretty good idea mistakenly got left behind. It's not a perfect process. There will be wrong turns whether from natural misguidedness (i.e. the popularization of a method that only works for a few) or from artificial means (i.e. steroids and PEDs shifting training design). The key is understanding what successful athletes were doing, why they were doing, and where we evolved to. If you understand this process, you'll be able to better understand how to continue to evolve in your own training philosophy. And perhaps more importantly, reach back and realize the brilliance of some of those who have come before us, and perhaps realize the gem or two that mistakingly got left in the past which should have been carried forward. That's where the next breakthrough in training theory lies.

So I’m going to end this post with a recommendation of historical training texts in the endurance running world which I think are a must:

How They Train by Fred Wilt
Run, Run, Run by Fred Wilt
Arthurt Lydiard- (Go for any old/original copy!)
Running My Way- Harry Wilson
The Competitive Runners Training Book- Dillinger
The Van Aaken Method by Ernst Van Aaken
The mechanics of Athletics- Geoff Dyson
The original Track and Field Omnibook
Anything you can find on Igloi's training methods





Episode 19-Phoebe Wright on mindsets, struggles, and what it takes to run professionally

0 comments
In Episode 19 of the Magness & Marcus show, we have a special guest in professional runner, Phoebe Wright. In an eye opening interview, Phoebe opens up about her running story. Starting off with what her mindset was going from walk-on to NCAA champion and how that mindset shifted once she reached the professional ranks.

Identifying it as having multiple Identity crisis' in running, Phoebe talks about her strategy of "zooming in and zooming out" to handle the stress of running. By getting hyper focused, she can break stresses down into small but manageable bites, while using the opposite strategy of zooming out to see the big picture when faced with a different set of challenges.

Phoebe reflects on the struggles she experienced in transitioning from the college ranks to the professional side, calling the two levels a "totally different sport", describing how she had to shift from a results orientated focus to a process orientated one in order to deal with the demands that professional running brought. When reflecting on advice for young professionals, she points out that the number one factor in achieving success on the professional level is attitude and environment. Unlike what most people assume, Phoebe puts "training" way down on the list and instead insists "Find the environment that completes you as a person," or as Amy Poehler put it "Treat your career like a bad boyfriend."

Before ending the podcast, Jon, Steve, and Phoebe discuss whether or not you have to live the "Runner/Spartan lifestyle" to make it on the professional level, or whether you can reach the highest levels with a degrees of balance.

For any athlete looking at transitioning to the next level, or for anyone who wants an inside look at the reality and struggles of running professionally, this interview is a must listen to!

Steve and Jon
@stevemagness
@jmarpdx


Listen and Subscribe:
Subscribe on Stitcher

Subscribe on iTunes

Subscribe through RSS





Resources mentioned in this episode:

By Tina Fey

Why is our sport failing to protect clean athletes?-Thoughts on the IAAF doping news-

1 comments


I don’t know Sebastian Coe. Ive never met the man and most likely never will.

I did, however, grow up idolizing him for his athletics prowess. In high school, I watched endless videos of his Olympic and world-record races, marveling at his elegant, yet powerful stride. From Running Free to The Perfect Distance, I delved into books about his running accolades and storied rivalry with Ovett. As I became more interested in training, his fathers books—Winning Running and Better Training for Distance Runners—became bibles to me. In fact, the latter was one of the inspirations to write my own book.

But this column isnt about my idolization of Seb Coe the athlete; instead its about the governing body which he has been elected to lead—the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)—and their reaction to a recent documentary by German broadcaster ARD revealing that 12,000 leaked blood tests suggest one-third of the medals awarded in the distance events at the world championships and Olympics from 2001-2012 went to athletes with suspicious results that are “highly suggestive of doping” according to experts. 

The IAAF and Coe issued stern responses, digging their heels in to defend their organization (and athletics as a sport) regardless of the outcome. The IAAF in particular appears more concerned with who leaked the blood passport data—they’ve called in the police—rather than the actual claims made in the documentary.

Data overload- When and how to use Data for effective coaching

1 comments
We're back! After a couple week summer hiatus while I took some vacation time, Jon and I are back with an exciting podcast on Data.

We start off with trying to get to the essence of splits. Coming at it from a philosophical viewpoint, we look at what workout splits actually tell us and trace our journey from reliant on pace zones and exacting splits to a more abstract view of paying attention to feel and letting the splits be secondary feedback.

From there, we take a broad look at data and look at why it's so easy to obsess over singular numbers. Whether it's mileage per week, weight, or VO2max, it's incredibly easy to fall in love with numbers that we can measure. Jon discusses why he doesn't even track mileage. Instead of using mileage or workout splits as end goals, you should flip the script and use them as feedback. This culminates in a discussion on why as coaches and athletes we should get away from comparing workouts

To finish things off, we talk about how to stay away from being a lazy coach. Meaning, don't fall into the trap of writing prescriptions and not paying attention to the athlete. Take an athlete first approach to training and you'll be fine. With data, it's not about fancy gadgets or statistics, instead everything you see as a coach is data. How a person walks to practice, how they look at the end of each rep, their demeanor, even how they text or email; it's all data. Determine what provides you actionable change and go with that.



Steve and Jon
@stevemagness
@jmarpdx


Listen and Subscribe:
Subscribe on Stitcher

Subscribe on iTunes

Curiosity and Connection- Why the 'boring stuff' in training is the most important.

0 comments

Curiosity is by definition an interesting subject. It’s that process of how an idea can suddenly pop into our mind, only to open up an array of doors for us to gaze into. The ability to be curious about the way the world works is one of the most underrated qualities or talents that one can develop. If we have curiosity, we have a never-ending supply of wonder that makes the drive to follow through on such ideas completely secondary. When one is highly curious, it no longer becomes a question of whether you have the motivation to put the work in to find the answer, the work simply happens as a by product of wanting to satisfy the curiosity.

How does this state of curiosity come around and more importantly, how can we develop it? In my recent perusing of books and research on the subject, most notably Curious by Ian Leslie and Riveted by Jim Davies, I couldn’t help but think of how curiosity is developed translating back to the world of running and training.

A Base of knowledge:

We often to think that curiosity is developed through this grand free flowing open spirited method. If we could only set our minds free from the trappings of our own mind and structure; perhaps exhibit some sort of freedom exhibited by Thoreau or any of the other’s writing who express this degree of independence. In modern society, the common complaint, perhaps rightfully so in some regards, is that schools inhibit any kind of curiosity and beats the wonder out of our kids. There’s been a suggestion to create more free flowing school, with kids following their interests or passions as they say.

But there’s one problem with this kind of thinking. The “boring stuff” matters. It matters a lot.


It’s often thought that if we know too much about a subject, our creativity decreases, but the opposite actually turns out to be true. As Peter Brown puts it in Make it Stick:

“Pitting the learning of basic knowledge against the development of creative thinking is a false choice. Both need to be cultivated. The stronger one’s knowledge about the subject at hand, the more nuanced one’s creativity can be in addressing a new problem. Just as knowledge amounts to little without the exercise of ingenuity and imagination, creativity absent a sturdy foundation of knowledge builds a shaky house.”

What research has shown is that what the basic foundation allows us to do is establish more connections. The wider base of support, or knowledge in this case, the more connections we can make. The key is the wide-ranging base of support, and not skipping the foundation. If we skip the foundation and “boring work” and just go for instant gratification of what interests us at that moment, we miss an opportunity to expand our future horizons.

 As we grow our knowledge in multiple domains, we can begin to connect seemingly unrelated concepts and ideas back to our own specialty. Curiosity kicks in as this motivating force that comes about by having enough familiarity with a subject by just enough incongruence to drive us towards finding an answer.

It’s related to our innate need to make meaning and patterns of the world. Biologically we’re primed through some nice hormonal contributions to be intrigued by slightly hard to see patterns. What knowledge and learning allows us to do is reach continually find new ways to see patterns.

As Jim Davies said in Riveted, “As we become familiar with a subject, such as a school of painting, or a language, or a musical style, we notice more and more of the patterns that make it up.”

As our knowledge base grows, our view expands. This phenomenon is what partially explains people’s interest in the seemingly random world of modern art. From an outsiders perspective, indeed from my own, it seems like a useless random piece of art work that we wonder why in the heck people are willing to pay so much for. What research (Taylor, 2011) has shown thought that these art works might have actually patterns that humans can pick up in them. Studying modern art like Jackson Pollock’s work, researchers have found “fractal” patterns in the paintings that people can actually pick out, based on eye gaze. What’s even more interesting though is that the more “well-trained” someone is in art, or looking at art, the better their able to pick up these patterns or pick up even more complex patterns.

I guess, contrary to my previous viewpoints, modern art isn’t random and may have a point?

The fascinating thing though, is the adaptation process that occurs. As Ian Leslie wrote in Curious, “The closer you look at anything, the more interesting it gets. But nobody tells you this” What happens is we can dig deeper and see the world through a slightly different lens. As we gain knowledge, the way we see the world shifts too, “Highly curious people, who have carefully cultivated their long term memories, live in a kind of augmented reality; everything they see is overlaid with additional layers of meaning and possibility, unavailable to ordinary observers”

The more knowledge, even of the basics, allows us to see things we never thought would connect.

My favorite way to illustrate this phenomenon is to look through my own intellectual history. High school me absolutely despised reading. If there was a movie, cliff notes, or some other way around reading some classical book, I would choose that route without even opening a book. There was the time in my senior year English class where I read the children's picture book of A Tale of Two Cities instead of attempting to read through any of it. As an 18 year old, I would rather have been put through the most brutal interval set filled with puking afterwards then read one page of such a book. Yet a decade later, I can be seen reading ancient classics like Marcus Aurellius Meditations, or any other myriad of books constantly. Why?  While there are numerous reasons, one that sticks out to me is how now I can relate and connect everything back to my own love of running and understanding the human condition, which wasn't possible until I gained a large enough base of knowledge in several areas. I couldn't connect any book I read in High School to anything that mattered to me.



The Curiosity of Training:

And as I sat at the recent Boulder Running Clinic speaking and listening to the likes of Vern Gambetta, Richie Hanson, and Charlie Kern, I couldn’t help tie this back. Everyone, from top to bottom, preached understanding and nailing the foundation first. Whether it was endurance, speed, mechanics, or strength, it was about getting the basics down.

It’s such a simple message. Understand and perfect the basics. But, we resist. We want to push forth and progress to the “interesting” workouts or skip to the advanced complicated drill, instruction, or training style.

So what we should take away from this is simple. The basics matter. It allows us to increase our connections to the specific work.

If we have a wide range of movement patterns, our efficiency is most likely going to be better, as we have a wider base of support to pull from. The same can be said for training. In presentations, I often post a picture of my training design workbook, where I show how different training types connect to each other.



And to me, that’s what training is all about. It’s about connecting. The more we can connect different workout types and mold them into the adaptations we want, the better we will be and the more flexible our athletes will be.

The larger foundation we have the more connections we can make. By having a larger base of support, our options and directions that we can go skyrockets, but we are also able to delve deeper into a particular workout. Exploring places in training that only open up and can be seen once our foundation is large enough.

This is one of the reasons why we most likely see athletes who are multi-sport athletes succeeding at high level sport. It runs contrary to the specialization, 10,000hrs hype that infiltrated sport in recent years. By spreading our athletic base over multiple supports, we’re creating a wide foundation of which we can latter connect to our own sport.

The same can be said for High School track and CC runners who skip straight to the fast interval work that might get quick results, but leaves athletes ill adapted aerobically, pure speed wise, and musculoskeletal wise to the progression of training that they will face in the future.

The way I see training is illustrated by this picture, which is actually a picture of a normal brain and a brain on psychedelics and the connections that are made in the brain. The goal of training is to build the outside circle early on that allows you create more of this valuable connections.



I can’t summarize it any better than Ian Leslie did in Curious. Tie this back into training, learning, or any endeavor and you are well on your way to success:

“Great ideas don’t just spring from the moment of the mental effort involved in trying to come up with one. Their roots extend back months, years, decades into their author’s life; they are products of long formed habits of mind as much as they are of flashes of brilliance….new knowledge is assimilated better, and has more creative possibilities the bigger the store of existing knowledge it is joining. Knowledge loves knowledge.”







Perceptual and physiological responses to Jackson Pollock’s fractals. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 22 June 2011

Episode 17- Falling into the trap to do more

1 comments
In the latest episode of the Magness and Marcus show, we discuss a familiar topic to all coaches, the trap to do more because you really don’t know what else to do. Yes, we’re talking about the age old problem of increasing work for the sake of increasing something. We begin with the diminished return and plateau effect and the mistaken and wrongly idealized linear growth mindset.

From here, we delve into how to manipulate variables and stressors to take an athlete slightly beyond their comfort zones to insure adaptation. Jon and I both talk about how we never repeat the same exact key workouts and what are reasoning behind that decision is.

After getting into the training a bit, we step back and take a look at some of the set patterns we fall into as coaches an athletes. Beginning with the issue of assigning importance to a component simply because we can now track or measure it, and then getting into relying on “default mode” workouts where we simply give a workout without really thinking about what we’re actually doing it. To get around this problem, we talk about responsive training and using a thinking pattern of breaking concepts down to their simplest components before trying to build them up.

In this podcast we also mention enough books to keep you busy for a few months!

Hopefully you all enjoy the podcast and let us know what you think.


Steve and Jon
@stevemagness
@jmarpdx



Listen and Subscribe:
Subscribe on Stitcher

Subscribe on iTunes

Subscribe through RSS


Resources mentioned in this episode:

Upside of Stress  by Kelly McGonigal

What makes Olga run? by Bruce Grierson

Make it Stick by Peter Brown

The Rise by Sarah Lewis

TED talk- The first 20 hours- How to Learn Anything by Josh Kaufman

The reality of running professionally- Contracts, Agents, and having the right mindset

0 comments


In this episode, we open the doors wide open. We’re talking about the realities of post collegiate running. We take on a slew of topics in this hour long conversation, including transparent conversation on contracts, agents, how much athletes actually make, what training groups and coaches do, and much more. Basically, we try to spread what Jon and I have learned in dealing in the post collegiate realm.

In this episode, which we’ll call a reality check, we start off with discussing how athletes are essentially starving artists. What this means is that for the vast majority of us, it’s about the process and dedication to this process and not the financial reward that is the motivator. As a post collegian, you need to be self aware enough to know your own potential, limitations, and goals and when to chase your dreams and when to step away.

Beyond knowing what it takes, Jon and I give our opinions on what makes a successful professional runner. From their mindset, to their approach to racing, we delve into what makes people last for the long haul. In this same vein, we go over the attitude that new post collegians need to adopt “having power 5 talent with a mid major mindset” and why many look for the wrong things right out of college. One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen in athletes coming out of college is in the “asking what you get” instead of asking what you can do. It’s about putting yourself in an environment where you can be successful, not necessarily chasing the environment that gives you the most money or prestige. We end off talking about how to find this environment and how it’s different for each athlete.

While this podcast is geared to a specific niche, we think that everyone will get some insight and knowledge from discussing a part of the sport that is seldom addressed. Consider this a glimpse of how to survive post collegiate running, or really anny transition in life.

Steve & Jon


Steve & Jon
@stevemagness
@jmarpdx



Listen and Subscribe:
Subscribe on Stitcher

Subscribe on iTunes

Subscribe through RSS



Resources mentioned in this episode:
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails