An open letter to the PSC on whether successful coaching is science or art? by Sam Goldberg

An open letter to the PSC on whether successful coaching is science or art?   

While there can be no doubt of the intimate connection between science and progress at almost every intersection of human activity, the question still remains as to the priority of science over art in the business of creating greatness in the field of athletics in general and in particular in the running events.

Today it is generally thought that certification is the end-all cure for success and that the mere labels of sports scientist and sport administration must appear in the CV of any individual seeking the title of modern day coach or hoping for a national position. However, there are some who take objection to this new vision of who and what a winning coach should or ought to be. And, there is some powerful proof that mere certification and scientific knowledge have failed to produce the results expected from those who both teach and hold such highly praised accreditations.

Regarding the view of those who question the choice of certification over practicle success and artistic mastery as the essential criteria for selecting coaches, I offer the following comments from one of the world’s only 3 time Olympic gold medalists Peter Snell, who argues:

1. “The thing that really makes the difference – iconic, driven coaches like Arthur Lydiard. You can’t just dial up another coach.” – Triple Olympic champion Peter Snell talking in an article in a New Zealand paper about the importance of coaches. Snell is upset that sports administrators in New Zealand bureaucrats in New Zealand are emphasizing sports science and administration over coaching.


And supportive comments by two of the sport-science communities most respected leaders, IOC’s Dr. Tim Noakes, and sport scientist and coach Professor Dave Costill.

1. Comments by Professor Dave Costill October/2006 “Dave Costill, an emeritus professor and founding director of the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University, where many of the top exercise physiologists in the US got their early training: “Coaching…a mix of art and science. As Costill once said the sports scientists usually discover what coaches already have figured out from years of trial and error in training athletes”. “said Costill, who was both a coach and a scientist during his career, and science usually lags behind art in understanding or discovering the keys to human performance” “So, while the secrets of sporting ability may be eventually explained in the laboratory, they are usually discovered during the time coaches and athletes train to improve their times, pushing the limits of human performances Ferstle for the IAAF)

1. Comments by Dr. Tim Noakes: 4/28/2008 “As an Afrian from the Dark Continent with an interest in Kenyan running I am able to confrim that there is not a single exercise testing laboratory in Kenya that is used by the best athletes and their coaches. Thus the best runners in the world do not have access to laboratory testing(at least while they remain in Kenya) so that they are not trained according to some laboratory-based protocols” “Could it be that their coaches know that to be the best in the world an athlete needs to run at a certain speed in competition(not a particular V02 Max or blood lactate concentration) and to achieve that speed he or she need to produce certain performances in training” “Great coaches should no be defined by their ability to produce one or two great athletes, rather they should be rated by their ability to produce many great athletes over many years”.


Finally, consider the evidence in this article :   ON THE DECLINE OF ASIAN SPRINTING (Under Certification From 2009 Through The End of 2011)

A.) Introduction of Certified Sprint Coaches into Asian Athletic Associations Since 2004 Since early 2000, while the call from Asia’s national associations for the hiring of certified sprint coaches gradually increased, utilization of previously successful non-certified coaches began to be phased out most notably in China, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the number and authority of active certified sprint coaches both domestic and foreign have continued to rapidly increase and take control of training procedures in China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

B.) Results of Certification on Asian 100m sprint performances (2009-2011) From 2010 thru 2011, 92% of all men’s 4x100Relay team members from Japan, China, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan posted slower annual 100m times compared to their 2009 times. From 2010 thru 2011, 80% of all top 2 ranked Open men’s 100 m sprinters from Japan, China, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan posted slower annual 100m times compared to their 2009 times; (

Finally, the PSC must realize two critical facts:

1. only a very very few (if any) of the top rated US running coaches(or their assistant coaches) have ever dealt with with non-blue chip runners. Virtually all these coaches earned their reputations not by dealing with the types of runners filipino coaches and other asian nations are normally confronted with, but by offers of University scholarships to America’s cream of the crop 100, 200, 400, hurdlers and middle and long distances runners already at the top of our nation’s highschool and junior college rankings. And this is equally true for those foreign athletes who were likewise offer scholarships.

2. Certification in the USA (as well as many asian and european countries) has become “big” business and only has one essential requirement, payment of fees. Typical certification seminars in the USA usually only take 1 day or a weekend at best, with 40minutes per event as a typical time frame.


While I am not anti-science I do oppose a certification process that does not demand applicants produce a respected level of new performance from a “non-blue chip” athlete as a requirement for final certification. I don’t think the PSC should squander its limited resources on paying foreign coaches who can only offer mere “certification” as the main proof of competene. And, I don’t think selection of coaches who can only show they have only successfully worked with already high quality blue-chip athletes is any clue as to how they would do with the typical filipino athlete who is not already a top level status.

What the PSC needs are coaches who like myself have taken a 12.3 male sprinter to 10.7 or a 58.9 400m runner to a 32.5(300m) time or a 3558 point decathlete to 7276 points. Any coach, unless they are totally incompetent can take a 10.2 sprinter and get some improvement, however such improvement would likely have come as a natural occurence anyway. Respectfully submitted Coach Sam Goldberg/Retired USA National Decathlon Training Center Running/Hurdles event Head Coach

Olympic great Sir Peter Snell says he is not sure the Sparc-led high performance system in New Zealand sport is the right way to go.
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