The coach is the bridge between research and applying research findings into sporting practice. It is therefore no wonder why the last two decades has seen a growth in sports coaching research.
Andy Thompson, Ian Bezodius and Robyn Jones investigated sprint coaches’ technical knowledge in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games. The particular question posed was: “what do coaches know as opposed to how they know it?”
Seven expert male sprint coaches were interviewed using a semi-structured, in-depth approach. The purpose of the interviews was to determine what the coaches considered as important technical characteristics necessary for top-level sprinting.
The authors also wanted to investigate if the basis of the coaches’ knowledge aligned with existing sprinting literature.
Analysis of the transcribed interviews revealed four areas as being crucial to high-quality sprint running technique – “posture”, “hip rotation”, “ground contact” and “arm action”.
The interviewed coaches regarded “posture” as “the athlete’s ability to control the muscle within the trunk, thus maintaining a fairly rigid position while sprinting”. These coaches also mentioned the importance of “core stability” or “core strength” in maintaining good posture while sprinting. Both these terms were used interchangeable by the coaches and were referred to as “the ability to control the muscles withing the trunk allowing for the preservation of an unyielding position while sprinting”.
While the coaches’ core beliefs echo those found in the literature, the definitions of “core stability” and “core strength” have two separate meanings within in the sprinting research. Additionally, there is no literature investigating optimal posture characteristics or supporting the coaches’ definition of posture itself.
“Hip rotation”, according to the coaches, “referred to the athlete maintaining a high centre of mass with a slight forward tilt of the pelvis during sprinting”. When discussing the general construct of “hip position”, the coaches referred to a number of terms interchangeably (e.g. “tall shape” and “high hip position”).
Although the interviewed coaches considered “hip position” to be of importance, there is little coverage in the sprinting literature supporting this.
The notion of “ground contact” offered the closest similarities between what the coaches believed and the current sprinting literature. All the interviewed coaches agreed that “ground contact” referred to “the time from the instant when the foot makes contact with the ground until the instant the same foot is lifted from the ground”.
“The position of the foot” and “contact time” were also highlighted to be of importance to good sprinting. All coaches agreed that “foot contact needed to be fast, but not so quick as to sacrifice the appropriate force generation”.
All interviewed coaches agreed that “the action of the arms plays an important role in sprinting”. While most sprint coaches believe this, many sport biomechanists question this thinking. Furthermore, some of the coaches highlighted that the arms act as a balancing function where others believed the arms play a role in dictating leg speed. These claims have either been questioned or unsubstantiated in the literature.
The source of coaches’ knowledge
Most coaches said that their technical knowledge of sprinting was mostly derived from personal experience (e.g. trials and error) and discussions with colleagues or more senior coaches. The benefit of coaching courses and research findings received mixed responses. A common thought was that research often lack of real-world relevance.
The interviewed coaches believed that “posture”, “hip position”, “ground contact” and “arm action” were important principals to high-quality sprinting technique. Such findings were partially supported in the sprinting literature; however there was either little or no research to support some of the coaches’ perspectives. This highlights the gap that exists in detailing the exact role particular variables play in the sprinting process.
This study also identified the need to understand how and why coaches engage with new knowledge. Indeed, in all sports it is important that practice and theory inform each other in a mutually beneficial way.
Thompson, A., Bezodis, I. N., & Jones, R. L. (2009). An in-depth assessment of expert sprint coaches’ technical knowledge. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(8), 855-861.