When working on a multi-coach strength and conditioning staff, it is important that all coaches be on the same page. Standardization is imperative for quality control of coaching within a large organization. To accomplish this, you must create standard operating procedures (SOPs) for essential tasks within the department. Essential tasks range from coaching a squat to a new athlete, to the structure of required reports. Standard operating procedures ensure intent and deliberate practice in coaching. A substantial amount of the coaching process occurs in a haphazard and reactive manner in staffs across the world. Similar to how Sparta Science and their partners use the scan in order to provide intent and to apply deliberate treatment plans for movement, coaches should utilize SOPs in order to clarify the intent behind each piece of their process and ensure that they are able to consistently achieve desired outcomes in essential tasks.
A standard operating procedure is defined as, “established or prescribed methods to be followed routinely for the performance of designated operations or in designated situations…”(1). Additionally, your standard operating procedure should state the intent and the why behind it. To put it simply, an SOP should contain: Intent, Why, and How. The added steps will facilitate inter- and intra-departmental communication and reduce human errors in accomplishing the defined tasks.
Start with the goal behind the SOP. For example, if we are creating the SOP for how to teach and perform the front squat, we would state that the intent is to increase LOAD, or eccentric rate of force development. It is essential to provide the intent so that all members of the strength and conditioning department understand it. Strength and conditioning coaches must be able to convey the intent to their stakeholders (athletes, sport coaches, sports medicine staff, front office, etc.). Finally, the “How” portion of the SOP will define the steps, and the sequence that those steps should ideally take place in order to achieve your goal. Understanding the intent ensures better understanding of the steps needed to achieve the desired outcome.
Explain the why behind the intent. Returning to our front squat example, our intent in using the front squat is to increase LOAD. A full explanation of the why is beyond the scope of this article. However, we would want to state why LOAD is important as well as how the front squat helps us increase LOAD. After the why is clearly stated for the strength and conditioning staff, it can then be translated into language that is more appropriate for other stakeholders (athletic trainers, sport coaches, front office, etc.). This allows for clear communication of the intent and reasoning among strength and conditioning coaches and to other stakeholders who may desire or require the knowledge.
To put it simply, the how portion is a checklist. This checklist should contain the points that must be covered in accomplishing the specified task and the order in which they should be accomplished. This may feel tedious and robotic, especially in the beginning. However, with time and practice it will become a natural part of the process.
Many coaches will argue that no checklist is needed to coach a squat and that adhering to a checklist will not allow the coach to contextualize their coaching. I posit this to be false. The checklist ensures that all requisite points of knowledge are conveyed to the athlete in the order agreed to be most effective by the strength and conditioning staff. Also, if a coach deems it necessary to deviate from the checklist, it is an intentional choice, and not simply an oversight due to a lapse in memory. Checklists will allow for a product of consistent quality and ensure that no step is missed due to unintentional omission.
Make no mistake, SOPs are no substitute for experience. A coach’s eye and intuition that is built by years of deliberate practice and time in the trenches cannot be replaced. However, this experience can be augmented by SOPs. Experience allows coaches to apply SOPs across a wide variety of contexts, communicate the required information to athletes and teams from a variety of cultures, and problem solve in order to achieve the intent behind the SOP that meets organizational standards. Loosely referring to the Pareto Principle, SOPs should allow us to obtain 80% of the desired results, 80% of the time, with 80% of the athletes. It is up to the individual coach’s knowledge and experience to implement the SOP and to find a way to obtain the final 20% in each of those categories in order to achieve the desired intent. Use standard operating procedures to clearly define and convey your intent, practice deliberate coaching, and provide consistent, high-quality results to your athletes.
1.) Standard Operating Procedure. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/standard operating procedure
Max Torres is a Physical Performance Coach for the Colorado Rockies Baseball Club, where he develops and implements the Rockies’ Physical Performance program at the Rockies’ Baseball Academy in the Dominican Republic. Prior to the Rockies, Max worked at the Division I collegiate level with stops at Loyola Marymount University, University of Iowa, and Boston University. If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out his blog.