Where science in endurance coaching becomes an art

As we often mention in our articles, endurance coaching is both an art and a science. Although its scientific aspect is valued and cultivated, the art part of coaching is often overlooked. But, it’s not the science that causes problems between a coach and an athlete; it’s the coach’s lack of artistic ability. Having said that, where does the science in endurance coaching become an art? 

That’s what we’ll try to answer in this article, dear coach, stay tuned!

Why can endurance training be an art form?

Science, in endurance coaching, is an objective and calculating process; whereas its artistic component can be categorized as a subjective and creative process. Coaches who incorporate art into their coaching view athletes as physically, psychologically and emotionally complex beings; each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, the focus is placed exclusively on athletes´ and on understanding them further, past the numbers and metrics that science provides.

Put another way, endurance training can be an art form because — in order to be effective —  it needs to embrace the intangible factors that science can’t, such as:

  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Open communication
  • Support and motivation
  • Shared values, and goals (co-orientation)
  • Constant learning, and evolving

There are multiple solutions to the same problem

That goes to say, a coach should not seek to find answers to a problem solely from the field of science. It’s more constructive to approach the issue from all possible angles, because, more often than not, there are multiple solutions to the same problem. This involves combining scientific principles and facts with creative thinking, to find the optimal solution for the individual athlete who faces the problem.

5 ways to blend science in endurance coaching with the art of  interpersonal relationships

Without further delay, let’s see how you can add some art to your science-based coaching style.

1. Design your own methods to solve existing problems

There are various problem-solving methods out there, but designing your own — based on your athletes’ needs and goals — can help your athletes much more effectively. And, even though finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, if you achieve the right mix of art and science in your endurance coaching style, you can make this work.

Understand your athletes through direct, detailed communication

Naturally, the first step toward designing an effective problem-solving method is to gain a deep understanding of your athletes. And there’s no better way to understand them than communicating with them, openly and sincerely. And, as communication is a two-way street, pay attention to what they are communicating, in return. 

Perform demographic assessments and identify patterns

Performing demographic assessments can play a crucial role in designing your own problem-solving methods. It’s through these assessments that you can identify patterns behavioral or otherwise for determining how much science vs art you need in your coaching for every problem your athletes face. 

Respect individual needs and understand how they affect performance

In sports, respect is the key to success. You just can’t excel at a sport without respect; respect for the sport, for the coach, the competitors, and for oneself. So, how do you inspire respect — and, thus, encourage respectful behavior — among your athletes? The answer is simple, dear coach: You lead by example. When you behave kindly and respectfully, your athletes are sure to follow in your footsteps. 

2. Adjust your methods based on the athlete’s goal

As we mentioned, keeping your athletes’ needs and goals in mind is crucial in helping them deal with challenges effectively. Unless you adjust your methods and processes to your athletes, you won’t achieve much in that direction. Adjusting is a prerequisite when you work with people, let alone athletes.

Personalize your scientific methods with creative decisions

As you probably know, science requires an exact framework to work. Nevertheless, solving problems effectively requires an intuitive leap, beyond science. Yes, you will use your science to a good effect, but since you are dealing with people, and not mere numbers, you must take a more creative approach. 

Explain your coaching choices and the reasoning behind them

It’s very important to take the time to explain to your athletes why you’ve made certain decisions and choices over others. For one, your athletes need to know why — and understand what purpose your choice serves. But, in reality, it’s more than that. When you explain your choices — and the reasoning behind them — you’re training them to develop critical thinking. What does this mean? Simply that you’re strengthening their decision-making ability. And, you know, this may save the day on a difficult moment, say, during an important race.

3. Do what you preach; lead by example

If you think about it, this comes down to being consistent, reliable, and ethical; that is, being true to your athletes and keeping your promises. In other words, doing what you preach is being aligned with your core values, and setting the tone for your athletes who’ll imitate your stance.

4. Be a good listener and build rapport and trust

When it comes to trust, science alone won’t make the cut. Eventually, the science in endurance coaching has to pass the torch to the art of communication and interpersonal relationships. The art of communication, as you probably already know, starts with active listening. If you achieve that, it’s only a matter of time before you build rapport — and trust — with your athletes.

Use psychology to contextualize each sport and keep athletes motivated

At some point, along your coaching journey, calling on sports psychology to keep your athletes motivated will seem like a one-way street. To use Gary Mack’s words, a sports psychology consultant and counselor:

“The world’s greatest athletes and the most successful people in other walks of life know this to be true – that once you reach a certain level of competency, the mental skills become as important to performance as the physical skills, if not more so”.

Adopting certain practices that draw from psychology can help you contextualize each sport and help your athletes regain a sense of control and purpose, through:

  • goal-setting,
  • visualization,
  • meditation techniques,
  • positive self-talk, etc.

Help athletes concentrate and think for themselves

Following a coaching approach based on creating a learning environment, will allow your athletes to start thinking for themselves and making their own choices to solve emerging problems. And, athletes who are in control of their own learning, are athletes who are intrinsically motivated.

Promote personal growth and leverage individual talents 

As we mentioned earlier, a coach who knows how to listen is a coach who gets to understand their athletes’ strengths and weaknesses. This kind of understanding, with the help of science, allows the coach to promote personal growth among athletes. Not to mention, leverage their talents. That’s a coach who can help their athletes set the right goals, and find the necessary (intrinsic) motivation to achieve them. 

5. You don’t have to choose between art and science in endurance coaching

You must have realized, by now, that art and science in endurance coaching are counterbalancing elements. Art can integrate science, and vice versa — just like the yin-yang symbol ☯️ — aiming to create a harmonious learning environment for the athlete.

The first period is about the art of interpersonal relationships

That’s just the natural thing to do. You can’t go about scaring your athletes away with cold scientific data and terminology, from day one. You need to bring the art of interpersonal relationships forth, and focus on getting to know them, first. Besides, they too, need to get to know you, to start feeling comfortable. Hence, the first phase of your collaboration is a familiarization period, where you lay the foundations of a strong relationship. For this reason, the scale should tilt in art’s favor.

Don’t base your coaching entirely off of “art” 

Of course, we’re not saying here that you should base your coaching solely on art. This would be very detrimental for your athletes, probably leading to over-training, stress, and break-downs. It would also be detrimental for you, as a coach. That’s because you couldn’t possibly help your athletes achieve their goals without the necessary scientific methods and tools. 

Once you’ve achieved a good relationship, you can build on science

Science should always follow the initial familiarization period, where art is ideally the driving force. Only after you’ve achieved a good relationship with your athletes, can you start building on science. 

From then on, it’s a constant juggling act between science and art, where you, alone, can decide what percentages to invoke each of these two fields in.

Don’t base your coaching entirely off of “science”, either

You got that right! You need both to become a good coach. Using science alone would make you a very cold and distant coach; athletes couldn’t connect with you. When all is said and done, endurance coaching is not an ‘either-or’ situation. But, it’s rather the fusion of science and art; which, when properly combined, have the power to produce ‘golden athletes’. 

TL;DR — Where science in endurance coaching becomes an art

All endurance coaches should be formally educated in the science of endurance sports. Be that as it may, all the scientific education in the world won’t do much good, unless the coach is skillful in the human aspect of coaching. Put another way, endurance sports do require science, but they also require human participation; thus, art is vital, as well. 

At first glance, science and art seem contradictory, but their processes are very similar. On one hand, the scientific method explores a problem and attempts to answer questions with facts. On the other hand, the creative process is all about expression and connection, trying to answer vague and abstract ideas through emotions and intuition. At the end of the day, whether science in endurance coaching will become an art, or not, depends on the ability of the coach to communicate. And to build relationships, inspire, and motivate athletes.

Where science in endurance coaching becomes an art was last modified: November 17th, 2022 by Eleni Konstantinidou