Athlete Input – Where Your Bread is Buttered


Goal oriented processes are driven by a series of inputs and outputs. These two variables are assessed and adjusted throughout the process until achieving the desired end state. Let’s say you wanted to make toast. The inputs might include a couple slices of Wonder Bread and the heat needed to toast them. Several devices exist to generate that heat and each has its own advantages and disadvantages depending on the properties of the bread involved. You place the bread in the toaster and when it pops, you observe that it hasn’t yet toasted to its potential. As the chef (or food coach) in this scenario you make an expert decision based on this premature output to toast the bread for another minute. Upon their subsequent leap from the toaster the slices of bread have reached a golden brown and are begging to be buttered.

Now that you’ve mastered the culinary art of toasting Wonder Bread, let’s take on Texas Toast. Relying on the same system and device used on the Wonder Bread, you cram the thick slices of Texas Toast into that same old school toaster. After a few minutes you hear the springs pop but the bread doesn’t surface. Damn… It’s stuck. Now you need to extract it (preferably without a metal utensil). You eventually wrestle it out of the toaster, only to have created four mangled slices of bread instead of the original two. It’s going to take a colossal amount of butter to cover up your breakfast disaster. Frustrated with the result, you toss the Texas sized toast and return to your Wonder Bread niche. 


Now that I’ve exhausted my cooking knowledge and made my dietitian friends shake their heads and roll their eyes, let’s connect this incredible culinary tale to strength and conditioning. Training should be a goal oriented process driven by a series of inputs and outputs, continuously assessed and adjusted by the coach until the athlete’s desired end state is achieved. The unique nature of each input and output must be appreciated along the way to be successful. Infinite input considerations exist such as technical ability, physical capacity, nutrition, training, sleep, exercise selection, and the list goes on and on. Various results typically dominate output. Some of these are acute and some of them are delayed, with the intent to eventually arrive at the athlete’s goal (the ultimate output).

What happens when a coach ignores inputs? More importantly, what happens when a coach ignores the two most important initial inputs – athlete assessment and athlete goals? In a best case scenario the athlete wastes time and experiences sub par performance results. In a worst case scenario the athlete suffers an injury due to inappropriate training inputs. Either way, the coach has displayed an ignorant disregard for what should be the primary source of programming inputs – the athlete. 

Coaches – Create a program based on what an athlete brings to the table (assess!) and what type of delicious meal he or she ultimately desires to feast on (the goal!). Do not force feed them.

Athletes – If your coach does not assess (and reassess) you and program your training with both your abilities and goals in mind, find yourself a new coach. Dine on gourmet toast instead of choking down some lazy chef’s Wonder Bread. 


4 thoughts on “Athlete Input – Where Your Bread is Buttered

  1. Great article Nate. We as impromptu coaches for every private that comes into our organization tend to jam whatever size/shape/flavor of “bread” that comes our way into the most outdated and unforgiving “toaster” that exists. It’s a constant struggle as we seem to be getting less of the athletes and more of the gamers who’s daddy’s hated them and never taught them to throw, tackle, or even run for that matter. How do we as expert Squad Leaders made extremely amateur trainers evaluate and mold young men with such extreme variances in inputs? The 2 most popular options aren’t always working; jam it in the toaster (program) and hope it comes back out perfectly done (operational) or leave it on the counter and hope it toasts and butters itself and then all we have to do is sprinkled some cinnamon and sugar on it. We most often get three results from that; overworked and injured Ranger, babied and non self sufficient Ranger, or when left on the counter we get the same weakling that arrived a year ago. Which is better or worse I haven’t figured out.

    • G – Looks like your sandwiched (pun intended) between two evils, an outdated system vs absence of a system altogether. As leaders, and therefore coaches, I feel your athletes’ physical preparation is your responsibility. Unfortunately, you have not been empowered to effectively implement neither a needs analysis nor a program based on its findings. While it’s far less than ideal (as supported by this blog post) I think the best option is to at least update the training system, even if it lacks the specificity for each individual. In your environment you will notice clusters of the same strengths and weaknesses which would be reasonably addressed given a half decent program, even if it does not consider each individual’s particular situation. That said, make your coach work a little harder and lineup a time for your guys to get assessed and have a program tailored to their needs. He’s an expert who’s likely underutilized. If he won’t proactively take his skills to you then approach him and pull them out of him.

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