A pocket guide to coaching wisdom

ACP Group watching training
Ellie Kormis

Ellie Kormis

ALTIS Director of Education

This past week saw the final Apprentice Coach Program of the 2013-14 Season. What began in the fall as a fairly unstructured, informal opportunity for coaches to spend time in an elite environment has morphed into undoubtedly the premier track & field coaching education experience in the world.

A program geared towards all levels of coach from all sports (although most specific to track & field speed-power events), the ACP is a blend of practical observation, classroom lecture, and informal discussion. As the program moves forward, we continue to look for ways to add value to this already once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are currently in discussion with a number of well-known and exciting coaches, as we look to schedule and publicize our guest-lecture series. This past week, we had amazing presentations by coach Dan Pfaff; world-leading expert in motor-learning and attentional focus Nick Winkelman, and World Champion and American record-holder in the pole vault Brad Walker.

At the end of each day, all the coaches gather for an informal ‘pool-side chat’, where anything goes – no topic is too simple, too complex, or too controversial. It is here that most of the following ‘nuggets of wisdom’ were collected.

We hope you enjoy a brief overview (in 140 characters or less) of our last Apprentice Coach Program of the Season.

If you are interested in getting information about our new season’s schedule, please sign up in the drop-down box at the top of this page.


Pool-side Chat

“Coaching is experimentation – Edison did 10,000 experiments before he came upon the lightbulb” – Pfaff

“Don’t be a slave to your programs – but be aware of the rules before you break them” – Pfaff

“Competition potentiation is a highly individual prescription – coaches should experiment to find what works” – McMillan

“12 competition minimum for Elite podium athletes – consistency smooths out competition mistakes made under pressure” – Pfaff

“Parkinson’s law – work will expand based on time allotted to it. Attach emotion to training – leave the gym victorious” – McMillan

“If you are good at something you enjoy doing it … This influences positive mood state – especially during the season” – Behm

“For youth I believe in keeping strong strong, then gradually filling in weaknesses” – Pfaff

“Strike point of the foot in drills, jogging, running, and sprinting are different and velocity dependent” – Pfaff

“Smart work dosed appropriately usually wins… Outwork your opponent and you will win can often be a recipe for disaster” – Pfaff

"Movement screens are not new, coaches have been doing them for years ... It's called watching practice" Dan Pfaff
“Movement screens are not new, coaches have been doing them for years … It’s called watching practice”

Dan Pfaff

“To have a major breakthrough, we want performance clusters. The athlete should show a measure of consistency” – Pfaff

“We want the athletes to be as independent as possible – to have a PhD level understanding of their event” – Behm


Heard on-track Tuesday:

“Throwing shot without wrist tape is like hitting a baseball with a foam bat” – Godina

Brad Walker Presentation (all quotes Walker):

”Feeling fresh for jump sessions is far more important to me than wasting energy on getting my clean from 130 to 140″

“Training post collegiate at university, I never felt at home… Altis provides pros with a place to call home”

“The athlete will trust your workouts as much as they trust you”

“Even rocky took his team to Russia with him – I always want people I trust in my corner”

“Success feeds on positive training environment just as much as sport science”

“A sense of trust goes a long way”

“There is a strong sense of motivation that comes from being a part of something greater than yourself”

“When a coach puts effort into the athlete, trust is developed and motivation is higher”

“Your source of motivation is incredibly important – should be something greater than yourself”

“After the 2008 Olympics, my motivation changed from proving who I was to proving who I wasn’t”

“I was drawn to the pole vault because I was willing to risk more than other athletes, which set me apart”

“Failures becomes less important as you learn that you can deal with them and come back – they actually build character”

Brad Walker

“My motivation in sports came from early life experience – proving myself to peers, family, coaches”

Pool-side Chat:

“Coaches’ schedules are dictated by optimal training times for athletes, not convenience” – Pfaff

“The more important factor to manipulate is actually density because the nature of an event dictates work capacity/volume levels” – Pfaff

“People always ask me what my training volumes are … I don’t think they are asking the right question…” – Behm

“What brings me joy is to get the phone calls and messages from former athletes 20 years later who have lead meaningful lives” – Pfaff

Accomplishments and championships are great, but they do not drive the coaching engine” – Pfaff

“At the end of the day as coaches, we want athletes to grow and develop as humans and to be at peace” – Pfaff

“We bring in athletes and coaches who are honest, empathetic, compassionate – the culture we create drives the performance engine” – Pfaff

“Too many people test too many things during windows of time that don’t make sense” – Pfaff

“Some of the hardest conversations with an athlete is when we have to fold on a hand” – Pfaff


Stuart McMillan Presentation (all quotes McMillan):

“There is no better substitute than dribbles for recovery or post injury re-integration”

“One primary reason we do concentric work is simply to potentiate another aspect of training”

Apprentice coaches watch Nick on the track
“Quality dictates quantity, not the other way around”

Stuart McMillan

“The first S in the SSC cycle is PARAMOUNT in speed/power – quality of eccentric stretch”

“Master exercises at different loads, velocities and ranges of motion before progressing to more advanced exercises”

“Exercise selection for velocity-based lifts should be long chain, large range of motion”

“Maximal strength can be maintained almost indefinitely by consistently utilizing sub-maximal load”

Pool-side Chat:

“We are looking for athletes who will promote the Altis culture and want to contribute to something greater than themselves” – Behm

“If you cannot execute near perfect on your own, you cannot expect to execute under pressure situations” – McMillan

“Do not underestimate the power of training/competition debriefs in order to foster awareness and positive psychology” – Pfaff

“The first step in teaching is making the student aware – then guidance through awareness builds confidence and mastery” – Pfaff

“Lengthening the hamstring under load leads to decreased incidence of hamstring injury” – McMillan

“Rest is never an option in high performance sport. Creative plan B schemes can bring an athlete back to form” – McMillan

“Train cyclic and elliptical runs so the athlete can auto-correct under dynamic conditions” – Pfaff


Nick Winkelman Presentation: What We Say Matters (all quotes Winkelman)

“As soon as you move more than two joints at once, we must use external cues for optimal learning”

“Analogies are the core of cognition – Feel like a … Be a …. ”

“Use action words that create images – Quick=Spring, Snap=Whip, Fluid=Water, Sharp=Knife, etc”

“Humor activates both short term and long term memory when combined with an external cue – emotional attachment to action”

“Constrained Action Hypothesis – Internal cues constrain motor system by interfering with automatic control”

“Internal focus leads to co-contraction, inhibiting the performance we often want to see”

“When an expert is given an external focus, it invariably improves performance”

“I don’t make many black and white statements – but external cueing clearly knocks the socks off internal cueing”

“Make Mental Monsters – when the athlete jumps the performance crevice, you better jump with them”

“The best coaches in the world use analogy and metaphor like a surgeon uses a scalpel”

Nick Winkelman

“Strategies – say the most with the absolute least amount of words & create context”

“If you do not convey a message in a way that makes sense to the athlete, the best advice will not have effect”

“Short term and long term memory are not separate systems, but a unitary phenomenon lasting seconds to years”

“Expert athletes are better at focusing attention – cues use less focus in expert brains”

“Know that attention is limited, but it can often be directed – it cannot be trained…”

“When looking for a gorilla, you often miss other unexpected events…”

“We can use attention in strength and performance both for good and for bad…how do we focus our attention?”

“The mechanism by which our brain registers information is what we call attention”

“If you can’t apply lessons from my presentation tomorrow, I have not done my job. I want to improve your coaching”

Pool-side Chat

“Excellence demands boldness. Excellence demands risk taking. The pursuit of excellence forces you out of your comfort zone” – Pfaff

“Sometimes you have to walk away from ignorance in order to save quality of life and the ability to effectively teach” – Pfaff

“What are ‘key performance indicators’ for an athlete at a given training age, skill level, etc. Fight for your KPI’s” – Pfaff

“What is your coaching style? The older brother, the goofy uncle, the young dad, the grandpa?” – Pfaff

“Know your athlete, know your coaching style, and find unique ways to get the best out of them” – Pfaff

“Coaching is cooking – we want to make chilli. Just because people like mint ice cream, does not mean it’s good in chilli”

Andreas Behm

“Great coaching is always being analyzed, polished, refined, shared, reduced…” – Pfaff

“The two years I spent with my mentor were priceless, without that experience I may still be a high school coach” – Pfaff

“The first job of coaching education is learning to separate fact from fiction, and to provide tools for success” – Pfaff

“Reintroducing the world to track & field will be a long term process… the athletes and coaches need to be rewarded for their efforts” – Godina

“Athlete/Coach centered EVERYTHING is how we improve track & field – if the machine itself is not built to assist athletes, its a problem” – Godina

“Who is the gatekeeper of technologies, and on what basis are they making conclusions and recommendations?” – Pfaff

“The danger in using technologies to determine training readiness is in the data set that determines so called ‘norms” – Pfaff

“The athlete must believe in the recovery strategy in order for it to be most beneficial for them” – Intern Coach Gareth Sandford

“Inflammation is a process that can do a lot of good for adaptation, the question is… how much do we intervene” – Pfaff

“Fluid replacements with aminos, electrolytes, vitamins, immune protection, etc are paramount in travel strategies” – Pfaff

“Fluid dynamics have huge statistical correlation with ‘fascial driven’ issues such as compartment syndrome” – Pfaff

“The best performers have the ability to transition between broad and narrow focus, consciously disassociating and re-focusing” – Pfaff

"As I get closer to a competition, I will cue less and it will be more positive"  Andreas Behm
“As I get closer to a competition, I will cue less and it will be more positive”

Andreas Behm

“We want a picture in the brain to create learning and performance – culture and history create context” – Pfaff


Track-side practical discussion on Performance Therapy and Acceleration Development

“Shin angles will change from one step to the next during acceleration” – McMillan

“No two steps should ever feel or look the same” – McMillan

“If you don’t understand the spirit of acceleration, it’s pointless talking about the minutia” – Behm

“When discussing acceleration, I speak to the holistic nature of the process – not pieces” – Behm

“Coaching is so much more than simply pointing out mistakes”

Stuart McMillan

“The brain doesn’t understand don’ts – always tell the athlete what you want them to DO” – McMillan

“Feel so powerful and long that it’s almost cartoonish” – Behm

“Sprint drills establish understanding of general posture and common language framework” – Behm

“We want to keep the therapy as active as possible on dynamic work days…can be more passive when training is less dynamic” – McMillan

Dan Pfaff Presentation: Bio-motor Abilities & Training for the Power-Speed Athlete (all quotes Pfaff):

“Great coaches have firm boundaries … identify KPI’s well, have interesting and useful comm. style, and are flexible”

“The best long term planners are the ones that usually perform best in the ‘final exam’ or top level competitions”

“Much of the positive adaptation happens within the interval between stressors – intra workout, weekly, monthly, etc”

“Static, mass-applied approaches to training often lead to injury, burnout, and sub-optimal performance”

“Stimulation, Adaptation, Stabilization, and Actualization all have proper incubation periods – is a skill/quality repeatable?”

“Event specific work capacities are developed by engaging in the real task in various capacities”

“If it does not develop specific work capacities for a given event … should you build a base with it?

“Beware of the myth of building a base … always ask yourself – A base of what?”

Dan Pfaff

“One must have layers of context and understanding to inform and sift research”

“The core of any training plan is to improve physiological and psychological readiness of an athlete”

“As scientific knowledge grows, so must the coaches’ systematic and methodological approach towards program application”

“The training process – a complex blend of logic, art, science, and pedagogy”

Pool-side Chat:

“I don’t take vacations … I take work holidays where I can change scenery. This is very re-invigorating for me” – Pfaff

“If you’re a young coach, find a good mentor and jump in on their network of influence”

Stuart McMillan

“Complex training ideas take time for athletes to understand and actualize. Athlete patience and awareness are crucial” – Pfaff

“Motor learning theory and dynamical systems theory have significant impact on our daily coaching practice…” – McMillan

“As coaches we always undulate between periods of analysis and synthesis – this is how progress is made” – McMillan

“Depending on where you are in your coaching career, your search for knowledge should be slightly different” – McMillan

“If I get my athletes really mentally healthy…maybe they wouldn’t be making certain mistakes – well-being is crucial” – Pfaff

“Our job is to get results. Coaches should be aware of the desired result, and be careful not to over-focus on process” – McMillan

“Coaching is like solving a Rubik’s cube … there are a million ways to make the sides match, and a million ways to solve it” – Behm

“Great coaches have an innate ability to meticulously focus on multiple factors during practice” – Behm

“The single most important quality of a coach is to instill a strong sense of belief in the athletes” – McMillan

“Day-to-day standing beside ‘best practice’ in action is priceless. That’s how you learn to separate BS from truth.” – Pfaff

Inspired? For more information on how to apply for the Apprentice Coach Program click here or use the drop down box at the top of the page to be the first to receive all the latest details on the 2014-2015 series of the Apprentice Coach Program.


The ALTIS Performance Trinity: Cornerstone Courses for All Coaches

Tired of the same old coaching advice that doesn’t translate to real-world success? Learn directly from the best in the field with the ALTIS Performance Trinity courses. Elevate your coaching skills with content that matters.

The ALTIS Foundation Course – A Comprehensive Review

Learn the pros and cons of taking the ALTIS Foundation Course, and make an informed choice on your coaching future.

Flexing on Hamstring Strength & Health


stream the largest collection of exclusive sport performance & coaching education videos around - for just $16.99 a month, with a FREE 14-day trial. Cancel any time.