“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self” – Aldous Huxley
If you’re going to get better as a coach you need to commit yourself to continuing education. This can come in the form of mentorships; reading coaching and sport science research articles; attending clinics, symposiums, or coaches schools; forming think-tanks with other coaches; reading sites like ELITETRACK, or learning from informative DVDs, podcasts, or videos. Personally, I try to do all of the above. Of all of these though, the hardest for me personally is to read full research articles. I say this as someone who spent 13 years studying sport science and doing published research of my own. And I know I’m not alone. The problem is two-fold:
- The bulk of research articles are poorly written. Not poorly written for research articles. Poorly written period. The authors fail to write in a way that draws the interest of readers.
- The stream of research articles, even in niche fields, can be overwhelming. With up to 12 journals for every area of sport science (biomechanics, motor learning, exercise physiology, etc) and researchers forced to publish like mad to attain / maintain tenure and secure grants, the sheer quantity of research on any given topic can be staggering and leave a coach wondering where to start.
Because of this, knowing which journals to read becomes important (they have different standards), as does getting beyond the ‘headline knowledge’ stage. Regarding the latter point, I’m referring to the temptation of reading the article title and assuming it tells you all you need to know. More often than not this doesn’t work. It doesn’t give you the context of the study or whether there were any methodological or interpretation errors that may have lead to a sensational but flawed title. It’s also important to get a good grasp of an entire line of research. Reading one article is not enough. Many complain that many research studies often contradict each other and this is certainly true. But this is rarely the case when you look at an entire area of research. Just as you shouldn’t look at one coaches training program and assume that everything is perfect (ideally, you’ll examine many successful coaches and find the commonalities), you shouldn’t look at just one article and assume that it accurately represents an entire area of research.
So where to start? If you’re short on time, patience or both to commit to keeping yourself up-to-date on the latest sport science research than I’d suggest the following:
- Dive in to as many research abstracts as possible. This will give you the summary of the article and if you read enough of them you’ll begin to see the trends.
- Limit your reading to the premier journals. Every field of research has a bible or two that is considered the best. These receive the best research article submissions and hold them to the highest publication standards because authors prize the clout and distribution that these journals bring.
- Attend sport science annual meetings. Research is often presented at annual meetings years before it is published in research journals and often times a decade or more before it enters the mainstream consciousness. Also, going to the meetings allows you to meet the researchers and ask questions that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
- Seek out meta-analyses. A meta-analysis examines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses. The result is a synopsis or footnotes edition of the area of research. They can be very useful to catch up on a topic that you haven’t spent much time on.