Principles and Axioms for Effective Coaching of Fitness and Conditioning

There are many basic principles to follow when teaching sports skills, strategies, and fitness for athletic competition. In this article I’m going to share a few of these basic principles. It’s a review of what must happen when you coach if you want your athletes to be able to perform effectively as individuals and as team members. Over the years, these principles have served successful coaches and athletes well and are effective in all sports programs. My experience is that many highly successful coaches employ them daily in their coaching without even thinking about them. Such coaches are so passionate about young people and their sport and are teaching with such high intensity, they never take the time to consider the actual principles that serve as the foundation for the way they teach.

The principles I want to focus on relate to getting the most out of your athletes in the area of conditioning and fitness training. These principles of coaching fitness training are presented to you with the hope that you can recognize the coaching concept more clearly. Newer coaches can then use them intentionally and coach more authentically. I’m also going to share key concepts in getting athletes more engaged in their training regimens.

One of the most important of all reasons why we have sports programs is to provide young people and adults with avenues to improve and maintain physical fitness. It’s not just for the sports they play but also for a lifetime of active living. Fitness conditioning involves three major principles: overload, progression and specificity. Any coach in any sport who conditions for fitness should be very aware of how all three of these principles work together to produce effective results. A warning to all coaches: it is critical that when conditioning young people in progressive resistance training (PRT) one should never employ one of these three principles without knowing about and implementing in concert the other two principles.

One of the first principles of coaching taught to me in my days as a physical education major at The Citadel was, The stronger one is, the faster they will learn a motor skill, and the better they will be at this skill. This principle has served me well in my coaching, and regardless of the sport you coach, it is a proven, self-evident axiom that will never falter if applied consistently with your athletes. Employing this axiom means that you must have a well-planned and consistently applied strength and conditioning program for your athletes within your sport program. Whether you do this before or after your practices, in-season or out-of-season, strength gains beget better skill and team performances all the time. From simple push-up routines to workouts with free weights or resistance bands, it does not matter. What’s important is designing a program that is well planned, based on the latest scientifically researched practices, and consistently executed over a long period of time.

The second principle to follow directly affects the first: The greater the overload, the greater the gain in the fitness item (strength, speed, power, agility, aerobic endurance, etc.). Be careful here, because this is not the same as “no pain, no gain!” I had the good fortune to have Dan Austin start his career with me as an assistant on our staff. Dan is a world champion powerlifter and one of the more highly regarded strength and conditioning coaches in America. At the time he worked with our staff we were totally unaware of his powerlifting exploits, but I will never forget during one of our team’s strength training sessions Dan pulling me aside and simply telling me, “Coach, the players will not get stronger unless they push heavy weight.” It makes no difference what the fitness item or items you are trying to improve you must employ the overload principle. If it is strength you want to improve, at some period during your months of conditioning, you must emphasize high-end overloading within the variety of routines being used in your program. If it is cardiovascular endurance you are trying to improve you must use high-end overloading (i.e. high intensity interval training) within the routines at some point in your months of training.

Now that you have been made aware of the value of the overload principle (and, hopefully, the principles of progression and specificity), how can you get your athletes to embrace and engage this principle to the betterment of their individual and team performances? What’s the key to getting greater engagement, effort, and commitment when they do their fitness training?

Most coaches I work with at the high school level were never taught the science behind the overload principle. They were athletes in high school and college and were social studies, math, English, or arts majors. They coach the way they were coached and use fitness routines they learned from other coaches. It would be wise for them to not only learn about the physiology behind the overload principle (and the principles of progression and specificity), but teach it to their athletes as well. For the athletes, knowing why they are working so hard tends to increase the worthiness of their efforts.

This brings us to another axiom that is very useful in motivating your athletes for greater effort and commitment to their conditioning routines. This self-evident truth is: The greater the knowledge of why, the greater the effort. When young people know why they are doing fitness routines and why they require really hard work over a long period of time, the more they will value physical training and commit greater effort. Knowing that they must push heavier weight or increase the intensity of interval or long distance training to achieve greater gains in their chosen sport, they will be more willing to give the effort, follow their coach’s leadership and teaching, and make a greater commitment to their personal goals and teammates.

Along with this knowledge of why axiom are two that go hand-in-hand with it and will result in placing your athlete in a position of owning their own drive and motivation to commit to and engage in the training regimen you have designed for them. Two self-evident truths about setting goals will give your athletes more internal drive and motivation. These axioms are: The more crystal clear the goal, the more likely one will work hard to attain the goal and The more realistic the goal, the more likely one will work to achieve the goal. Simply put, if goals are unclear, too high, or too difficult to attain, neither athletes nor teams will work hard to attain them. But when combined with the knowledge of why axiom, integrating these goal-setting principles will plant the seeds of personal ownership. This is what we as coaches are always trying so hard to achieve in our profession. We all want highly motivated athletes.

To employ these goal axioms you must learn more about how goal-setting works and how you can use this as an important conditioning tool for your athletes. Go to the pelinks4u website and put goal setting into the search box. You will find a plethora of articles on goal setting by previous contributors. Reading any of these articles will tell you of the great power in goal-setting and how to use it as a part of your coaching repertoire. Better yet, you will get much more out of the conditioning and fitness routines you create for your athletes and teams and in the end become a much more effective coach.


50 Million Strong Case Studies

Read how your teaching colleagues are showing their commitment to increasing physical activity and bringing good health to their students! Remember - It begins with US (and that includes physical and health educators everywhere!)  



Join the Discussion