Science and Coaching


By John Leonard

OK, I take this personally. For those who think that’s a fault, I will kindly disagree.

I’ve been at the ASCA for 31 years now. When ignorant people with no history at their disposal, whom have never spoken to me, nor any ASCA Board Member, make statements about “what the ASCA thinks,” I do hear “what JL thinks.” Shoot me. I also believe that if you don’t take your work personally, it’s not important to you. Only my children are more important to me than the ASCA.

So recently a very ignorant person had the audacity to state that the ASCA “thinks Coaches Should Only Learn From Coaches.” (And stated it in writing, even more stupidly.)

Here are the FACTS:

  1. The ASCA formed the first and only peer-reviewed scientific journal in swimming. It was formed by my predecessor in this job, Dr. Keith Sutton, in 1984, a year before I got here. I maintained it, supported it, nurtured it, believe in it, and continued to support the funds that paid for it. We had wonderful editors including Dr. Mary Sutton (Keith’s wife and a brilliant medical person in her own right.) Dr. Rick Sharp, Physiologist, Dr. Joel Stager, Physiologist and now, Dr. Jan Prins, of the University of Hawaii, one of the foremost scientists in swimming.
  2. Lets Define SCIENCE, since I really, really, really support REAL SCIENCE.
    Science is the PEER REVIEWED PUBLICATION of your paper and inclusion in the Journal for which the “peers” do the reviewing. Here is what REAL SCIENCE IS NOT: it’s not having a Ph.D with your name and thus your every pronouncement is “science.” It’s not declaring your “research” as science (or Twinkies would be confirmed as health food by the “research” of General Foods Corp). It’s not having your opinions masquerade as science because you want to build your business via the internet, where any shyster can promote anything and get away with it.
  3. The so called “author” of the idiotic comment above, says I (ASCA) do not respect Science. Nonsense. We respect, support, seek, and eagerly listen to, REAL SCIENCE. Those are FACTS.

    We reject internet marketing using the magic term “science” as a way to sell yourself and your crap. Be Real with your science, or tell the truth and call it your opinion. The Great Thing about the USA, is we all have a right to our opinion. So do you shysters. Have at it. But when you lie about what you do being science, yes, you have an enemy at the ASCA and with me.

    The best source of information on coaching, is COACHES. I don’t want a physiologist “coaching my child.” I don’t want a Psychologist coaching my child. I don’t want a Nutritionist coaching my child. I don’t want a Biomechanist coaching my child.
    I want a COACH Coaching My Child. A Coach knows that “all of the above” have contributions to make to the process. That NONE of them is “the answer.” By the way, the truth is that most scientists are part of the “If I have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” school of thought. (The biomechanist thinks all the answers are in stroke mechanics. The physiologist thinks all would be grand if the physiology is right; etc.) ONLY THE COACH GETS THE WHOLE PICTURE.

Here is a thought experiment for you: Your CHILD has a brain tumor. He needs an operation. Do you want the guy with the Ph.D, who teaches neurology at the University doing that operation, or the Surgeon who has 1000 successful brain operations on his record, to do the work? Duh.

Throughout the world history of swimming, all the best performing coaches have SOUGHT OUT Science, looking for help. But NONE of them, blindly did what some scientist said. They asked scientists to be our collaborators in the process of learning how to produce athletes. This has been true especially in Australia and the USA, which has produced the historic “Lions Share” of ideas in swimming.

Real science is fantastic and hugely useful. Any real scientist will tell you that rarely does science find clear answers. Instead, it reveals more accurate questions to answer and seek responses to. This makes “real science” remarkably frustrating to the practitioner, the Coach…we largely look for answers, science largely can’t provide them. But we get great ideas on where to experiment in athlete development, by the questions that REAL SCIENCE unveils.

So, yes, the most useful information for coaches comes from other coaches, who have been there, done that, produced real world swimmers and continue to do so. The Proof is in the Pudding without a doubt. That doesn’t make ASCA (or me) “anti-science.” We respect, use, love, REAL SCIENCE. The JSR has been a huge contributor to our sport over the past three plus decades. (Thank you editors and review boards, made up of real scientists.) Our Schools are developed with the help of real scientists in all the relevant cases. We use science ALL THE TIME.

What we don’t respect, is you shysters doing pretend science and presenting it as Science, in order to make a living. REAL SCIENCE is rigorous, structured and Academic.

Whether you are a coach, parent, swimmer, when you come upon a self-described “scientist” hawking his ideas, the first question you need to ask, is where is your work published? Second, is the publication peer-reviewed?

Follow up on those answers to ascertain their validity.

Science, We Love ‘Ya!

John Leonard
Executive Director
American Swimming Coaches Association

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