Published On: September 25, 2019Categories: Career
My Take on How You Turn a Tortoise into a Hare – or, at Least, a Faster Tortoise
coaching career began as an assistant tennis coach in a small town in my native
country, Denmark, when I was 13 years old. I was fortunate to have several great coaches.
One of them had played professionally when he was younger and was the doubles
partner with Boris Becker’s long-term manager, Ion Tiriac. A few of the
exercises I learned as a teenager are still among my top picks 37 years later.
of my first memories of strength and conditioning (S&C) occurred when I was
7 or 8 years old; I was unable to do a single sit-up during soccer practice.
Growing up, my experiences with S&C were in the contexts of the sports I
played: tennis, badminton, and soccer. They were all organized by the sport
coach. I don’t think S&C coaches existed in Denmark when I was a teenager (1980s).
Interestingly, I don’t remember the first time I became aware of the concept of
an S&C coach.
19 years old, after the Danish version of high school, I enrolled in a two-year
study of math and physics. It was a period which seemed wasted at the time, but
later turned out to be an incredible foundation for my understanding of
biomechanics and movement. I could not see myself spending my future in a
windowless lab, so during a sleepless night, after graduating, I asked myself: What do you really enjoy doing? The
answer was sports.
was four days before the application deadline, but I was accepted and started
studying exercise physiology at the University of Copenhagen in 1991. I
enrolled because I liked sports. I had no idea what type of position/job I
could get once I graduated.
later, my father told me that he worried for me. It is a testament to the space
he always gave me and my brother to allow us to grow and find our own
path. I am thankful he did not try to
talk me out of my chosen career.
my second year of university, I participated in track and field. My first
clocked 100m was 14.28 seconds. Most readers will be aware that a sprinter can
likely run closer to 150 meters in that timeframe! I would obviously never make
it to an Olympic time trial.
experience was the beginning of my interest in S&C. The big question in my
mind was how to train to get fast and explosive, or How do you turn a tortoise into a hare, or, at least, a faster tortoise?
remember studying books by Tudor Bompa, Vladimir Zatsiorsky and Frank Dick in
the university library and gradually getting the feeling that I wanted to
become an S&C coach. That decision, as well the one to move to Canada,
appeared to me as very clear “gut-feelings”
in such a way that I have never questioned them.
Positions I held in Denmark
in 1993 I worked with world-class triathletes, world-class badminton athletes,
world-class figure skaters, and national to international volleyball athletes
before I graduated with a masters degree in 1999. I got these positions through
my own initiative and willingness to work for a low to moderate pay to get my
foot in the door. However, my dream was
to work full-time for Team Denmark, the Danish equivalent of Sport Canada. It
is a long story, but after an intensive interview, several testimonies from the
sport coaches I previously worked with, and a study conducted in conjunction
with the coach of the National Men’s Volleyball team, Mikael Trolle, Team
Denmark hired me as their first full-time S&C in the fall of 1999, a month
after I graduated from university.
It was a great position with the responsibility to create highly individualized training programs for approximately 20-30 high priority athletes. I worked roughly 50 hours per week (note, 37 hours was required) not because I had to, but because I wanted to grow as a coach.
Many coaches are told to specialize in a specific sport. Up to this point, I have been involved with 27 different sports and thus performed a thorough needs analysis 27 times. Developing thorough needs analyses provided me with a clear understanding of the uniqueness of each sport. It also gave me greater insight into the differences between the various sports and propelled me to develop a system of periodization that was flexible enough to accommodate the vast differences between the athletes’ needs presented to me.
working with amateur athletes in both Canada and Denmark, two of the biggest
challenges I have experienced are as follows:
Sport coaches are
well educated on the technical/tactical aspects of the sports, but not the
needs for long-term physical development. In many cases, I have had a
respectful relationship with the coaches I have worked with. However, one thing
I have learned is that if a coach speaks negatively to you about their
athletes, then you might consider if that is an environment you wish to be a
part of. (Hint: It is not the athletes that are the problem).
By far, most of
the athletes I have worked with have always been engaged in 10+ hours of sports
training each week. Thus, their energy for strength and conditioning were/are
limited. However, this scenario has taught me to be as effective as possible
with the program design.
Moving to Canada
I moved to
Canada in 2007 to live with the love of my life and wife, Lucinda Jensen, whom
I had first met at Dr. Ken Kinakin’s SWIS Conference in 2005. From the beginning, it was our goal to have
the freedom to travel to see our families in both Denmark and Antigua.
Therefore, we started Yes To Strength, a company that provides online and live
education for S&C coaches as well as individualized training services for
I sought part-time employment to offer individualized training services.
However, except for four good years at the University of Toronto (teaching
Olympic Lifting classes and working with select clients) that never
materialized. I had already started developing a very comprehensive approach to
periodization and program design that I used and wanted to share with other
coaches. As a result, I put my full efforts into sharing that information.
an S&C point of view, working in Denmark and working in Canada is very
similar. The only thing that stands out as a difference is that during 15 years
of working in Denmark, including my time in university and censoring the yearly
examination at the only school offering specific education for S&C, I had
never heard the concept of asking permission to touch when spotting someone; a
concept I now embrace wholeheartedly. Thus,
my approach to training has not changed because I moved to Canada. I do,
however, continue to evolve due to continued studying, refinement, and
inspiration from the best in our field.
Attributes and Skills
The key attribute to succeed as an S&C coach is
expressed eloquently by legendary motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar: (1,2)
If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.
Willingness to learn is not only the
willingness to read books and take courses. The information available to us related
is very fragmented. To truly be able to
apply what you learn, you must think about how different pieces of information
relate to each other.
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. Albert Einstein (3)
In Denmark, my masters degree in
exercise physiology and the fact that I had already worked with international
level athletes with proven success opened the door to Team Danmark (www.teamdanmark.dk).
In Canada, additional certification as a strength coach is typically required
to be selected for any higher-end S&C
The number one advice I would give
to any S&C
coach of any age entering Canada would be: Be
so good that they can’t ignore you.(4) And if they still ignore
you, at least you get to feel good about yourself.
Karsten is the owner of Yes to
a company that offers live and online practical and theoretical education for
athletes and S&C coaches.