Post by: Dr. Adam Naylor, AASP-CC
While attending the 2009 Boston Hockey Summit the name of an important influence in my professional career was mentioned. Coach Boyle commented that Peter Friesen, strength and conditioning coach for the Carolina Hurricanes, was in town for a game and might be dropping by the conference. The impact of a strength coach on a sport psychology guy can be unclear at best, but in 2000 Coach Friesen recruited a handful of Carolina players to participate in my dissertation research. We exchanged only a couple of notes and I doubt Coach Friesen recollects this assistance, but the value of getting access to NHL players for research and helping a doctoral student become a doctor is as they say, “Priceless.”
The research itself examined professional hockey players, who was influential during their professional years, and how much impact these important others had on their performance (Naylor, 2001). Eighty-two different individuals were identified as influences on players during their minor league careers through retirement from the NHL. Within this social network, it was found that at about the age of 20 players perceive their relationship with their strength and conditioning coaches as important as close friends. The strength of this influence only increased as one’s career went on, with strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers being viewed as more important than skill and bench coaches when a player was in his thirties (in most instances the only people of greater importance at this time were wives and children!). The importance of teachings on strength and health were exemplified in a 13 year NHL veteran telling me the key to his longevity was, “Bottles of water and the exercise bike.” Certainly the increased importance of strength and conditioning professionals can be explained by the need to maintain an aging body, but if you look closely this is only part of the story.
A lot of personalities and various perspectives were shared at the Boston Hockey Summit, but I suspect the coaches whose athletes made the greatest gains in the weight room and on the ice had one thing in common – close, trusting relationships. Even the best, laid conditioning plan fails to fully benefit athletes if the coach is unable to extend beyond the science of programming. A great coach must chose to be and become a respected and responsive collaborator with the athlete. In examination of strength-coach athlete relationships, McCormick (2002) found that the benefits of a true working alliance in the gym extend beyond increased strength, speed, and injury prevention… self-efficacy grows. More specifically, it was found that college athletes that have close, interdependent relationships with their strength coaches have greater confidence in their ability to succeed both in the squat rack and on the playing field.
Quality strength and conditioning coaches are important to both their athlete’s physical prowess and mental fortitude. Furthermore, these impacts appear to only increase as the pro athlete ages. Thanks Coach Friesen… for setting these findings in motion and helping a young sport psych guy go from “prospect to professional.” I look forward to the 2010 Summit, while much will be said about the development of strength, speed, flexibility, and the prevention of injuries – I hope between sessions and during casual discussions a dialogue will begin about how great coaches make the science stick and build most resilient athletes – both physically and mentally.
Naylor, A.H. (2001). The Developmental Environment of Elite Athletics: An Evolving System. Doctoral dissertation. Boston University.
McCormick, H.C. (2002). Strength Coach-Athlete Relationships and Self-Efficacy. Doctoral dissertation. Boston University.
Dr. Adam Naylor, AASP-CC. is the Director of the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center (www.bu.edu/aec). He has serves as a mental conditioning and player development resource for players at all stages of their sports career. More reflections on player development and sport psychology can be found at http://prosportpsychsym.wordpress.com and Dr. Naylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.