Currently, I'm furthering my education by earning a degree in educational leadership. While the ultimate goal is to work in educational or athletic administration, much of the coursework that I've taken has application to training and coaching. In particular, I'm currently taking a course called “Problem Solving and Visionary Leadership.” So far, this has been one of my favorite courses because the information is something that I can apply not only to my work in education but also to training and coaching.

One particular part that sticks out is the notion that in leadership, perception will often equal reality in the minds of those under you. For example, say a leader appears incompetent. It won't matter how much he actually knows. His subordinates will always believe that he's incompetent. In this article, I want to relate this notion of things to our world of coaching and training.

In Our Own Training

Many times we dismiss things as not working or not being applicable to us for whatever reason. We've heard this many times and it could be as follows:

  • Volume-based training works better for raw lifting, but intensity-based training is better for geared lifting.
  • X training program only works for those using performance-enhancing drugs.
  • Training the lifts more than once a week is too much. You will overtrain.

How many people have really tried any of the alternative viewpoints? Often, these things are shut out before they're even considered because someone said not to do it, so it must be true. The perception of these notions becomes reality before they're given a fair shake. I have been just as guilty of this as anyone, but before dismissing anything, it makes sense to at least understand the reasoning behind doing something and the real positives and negatives instead of just going with what is common place. Understanding the factual material behind any system can possibly lead to more options that can contribute to progress.

Going back to the example of frequency above, many people know me as a frequency guy. I wasn’t always this way, but I started gravitating toward it. I had the perception that many share and feared overtraining. However, here's the thing. If you think that squatting once a week is all you can handle, it will always be all you can handle. If you think that squatting two, three, four, five or more times a week is possible and you can logically program it, you will do this. It really depends on your perception. It's possible to do too much for your current level, but once you have stagnated at that, you have to look at how you can provide more stimulation. It doesn’t have to be frequency. This is just one example. But many people let their perceptions of what is widely accepted squelch possible solutions before even considering them.

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In Coaching

Some of this pertains to how you program for athletes and some is about how your athletes perceive you as a coach.

When it comes to how I program, I always look to what is currently possible, useful and appropriate for the level of the athlete I'm working with. I always look at this in reference to what I'm doing and, if I can’t justify inclusion, it won’t be included. As we know, the less trained the athlete is, the more things may be of use. However, on the other side of this, there may be fewer things that are possible or appropriate due to the fact that they may not be able to perform the skills correctly until more remedial skills are learned. In addition, there may be fewer things that are of use for an advanced athlete. The athlete and his sport will determine how appropriate certain modalities may be. The spectrum of possibility will vary.

With this in mind, we'll look at something like maximal strength for football players. Earlier this year, I pissed off a lot of people who thought that this is the "end all be all" of athletic preparation. Their perception going into the article and after reading it was that it was the most important aspect of preparation and I had gone against what they perceived as reality. Because of this, the information presented had to be wrong. However, the fact was I never discounted maximal strength. Instead, I said to look at it as one part of the total equation. While it may be much more important to a relatively untrained, weak player at the high school level, it probably won’t help a high level college or professional player who already has a high level of strength.

As an athlete, sometimes there is a perception that the program you're being required to do isn't as good as other programs out there. I dealt with this with a particular player who transferred to us from another school. His previous school did very low amounts of work on the field in the off-season. They pretty much hang cleaned, squatted, benched, inclined and front squatted as well as performed numerous bodybuilding exercises three times a week. While he got more athletic and stronger in our program, he still perceives our system to be missing something. He started training at other places in his free time and added more work on top of work without looking at the big picture. His perception was that he needed to spend all day in the weight room to feel like he was accomplishing something, regardless of the results he was getting working with us. No matter how many times our staff explained this, he still perceived that our program wasn't contributing to any higher results.

The way that athletes perceive their coaches sometimes influences how they respond to their coaching. On my staff, there are both older and younger coaches. Some aren't overly personable or perceived as “nice.” Others are perceived as “cool” or players' coaches. I'm more in line with the former, not the latter. I'm not overly concerned with people liking me personally, but on the flip side, I also do show the athletes that I'm looking out for their best interests and can provide information as to why we do what we do. I also look for them to do things correctly, and if our performance doesn't meet my expectations in certain areas, I have no problem providing consequences. While the athletes don’t perceive me as someone who will stand and shoot the shit or crack jokes prior to practice, the majority still know that I'm trying to help them.

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Contrast this with the “player's coaches” who, in the short-term, are well liked. The problem they run into is that they get wrapped up in being perceived as a friend and then the athletes don't really listen to what they have to say or don’t expect them to actually stress discipline or execution. This can be problematic because when one of these types attempts to do this, the perception they built prior to this conflicts with attempts to be more assertive and strict.

When I was a player, I had some coaches I didn’t particularly like. With some of them, I could tell that they knew what they were talking about. They were tough but were still attempting to teach.

In my opinion, you can be perceived as an asshole or a hard ass as long as you're still providing constructive feedback. However, if you're just a dick without any real knowledge, you probably won't be well received. If you're a “player's coach,” you may be well liked, but it may be hard to have much structure or discipline because the perception is that you care more about the need to be liked or to be one of the guys. While you may know what you're talking about, it may be hard to break players of poor habits because it conflicts with your perception of being a likeable person.


In the past few years, I've loosened many of my perceptions of different training modalities. When I first read about things like 1x20 programming, which is now coming to the masses, I was skeptical. However, I looked into how or why it could work and found ways to use those principles in my own programming. As a coach, I've examined how I'm viewed. While I want my system to be in place and I want to establish a culture, I also want to make sure that the players know I'm trying to make them better at their sport and also better as a team.

My point is attempt to not have perceptions blur the reasoning behind what may work and how you can use it. While perception will influence reality, it may not necessarily be 100 percent true.

The last thing to note is that you can control some perceptions while others you can't. The perceptions of others may be out of your control. However, through your actions and what you can teach, you may be able to influence how you are perceived. On the other side of the coin, how you perceive information or concepts is something that can be controlled if you keep a level of objectiveness.

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