A Holistic Approach to Coaching

When studying philosophy, it is important to try to relate the theories and concepts we learn to everyday life situations. We do not truly learn something until we can apply it to our own lives. Philosophical theories are what defines us as human beings, so it is very important to find a theory that we can relate to. For me, the view of the human person that I most relate to is holism. Holism looks as the mind and body of equal importance and, unlike dualism, it does separate these two separate entities. Instead of focusing on just the mind, a holist will look at how the mind affects the body and vice versa. I believe this to be the most complete theory of a person and it is the one I will use in future professional settings.

After I earn my Kinesiology degree, I will be in a career where I have to work with and understand people. Simply regurgitating information about the human body is not enough for me to be successful in my post-degree job, I must understand how to deal with people. Part of the problem with Kinesiology today, is that we focus too much on quantifiable factors and do not spend enough time on how to communicate with people through different situations. Just looking at medical evaluations is not enough to determine if an individual is completely healthy. We must learn to grow relationships with our patients, and find out information that science and medicine cannot show us.

A New York Times article explains this perfectly. In the article, Abraham Verghese explains a situation where a patient was brought in to take a CT scan to determine her difficulties she was having with breathing. When looking at the CT scan, the radiologist determined she had tumors in both her breasts. The problem was these tumors were already visible on her chest and the CT scans were not only unnecessary, but they also introduced her to radiation that could have made her cancer worse. (for more information on this article go to http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/opinion/27verghese.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). This shows us that we cannot rely on technology for all our answers and we have to understand the person from both the physical and non-physical if we are to understand them completely.

A field I have always been extremely interested is coaching. As a coach, you need to understand your athletes by their physical capacity and their mental capacity, so you can get the most out of them. If you don’t understand both of these factors, then you are going to put them at risk for failure or injury. A perfect real world example of this is the case of Redskins quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Here is a case where doctors have determined that his knee is 100% healthy from post ACL surgery, but you can clearly see that he is not playing like his knee is healthy. He is afraid to run for extra yards and he looks to be playing extremely cautious at times, as if he is afraid of hurting himself once again. This is a case of where his mind is clearly affecting his physical ability to play. We cannot look at his mind separately from his body because both need to be treated equally so that his mind and body move as one.


It is the responsibility of the coach to make sure the athlete is ready to play, both physically and mentally. The coach and athlete relationship is crucial to success for both parties. The athlete needs to trust the coach to get the best performance on the field and the coach needs to understand the athlete inside and out to set up his/her success. The relationship between Robert Griffin III and Coach Mike Shanahan has certainly not been without its fair share of drama. It is clear their communication with each other is weak, from their arguing on the side line to comments that Robert makes about his coach off the field. In an interview with ESPN, Robert Griffin said something about his coach that I found to be pretty shocking. In the interview, Robert states that as a player the coach doesn’t have to listen to him, but he has to listen to the coach (for more of this interview visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxw8AlQ8qlI). To me, this clearly explains why Griffin was playing in a playoff game when he clearly wasn’t healthy enough to play and why he is playing now. He is either too scared to tell his coach that he isn’t 100% or his coach simply is not listening to him or care enough to ask him how he is feeling. For a holistic relationship to work, Robert Griffin III must be able to express to his coach that his mind is not caught up to his body, otherwise he will be put out on the field for further risk of injury.

The question becomes: How do we use holism in a practical setting to help out athletes post-injury? I think the answer to that is clear; we must treat the mind and body as if they were both injured and make sure both are healthy before playing an athlete. Successful rehabilitation includes treatment of the physical and non-physical person. Characteristics of non-physical treatment include the athlete’s belief in the efficiency of the treatment, a social support system for the athlete and the athlete’s orientation towards task related goals in his or her sport. Also, the athlete must work towards getting rid of negative or counterproductive mindsets (for more information on the mind-body relationship see: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=zwc-YNnho0sC&oi=fnd&pg=PA157&dq=holism+and+athletes&ots=A44OMtf7Bi&sig=LJ5tRJLf4cTxd-J7VEV5t93rHkU#v=onepage&q=holism%20and%20athletes&f=false). Coaches need to be there for the athlete in all the steps of rehabilitation and offer all the support they can. It is important to realize that it is not only their body that is damaged after an injury, but their mind too. A holistic attitude tells us that both need to be complete if the athlete is to achieve success again. Understanding this holistic theory is something that would greatly benefit me if I were to become a coach.


Kinesiology and Philosophy: A look of steroids in sports

            As Kinesiology students, we are always searching for the next breakthrough in the fields of science and medicine. Most of the classes we are required to take, deal with the application and methodology that is required to plan and execute new studies that will lead to these great breakthroughs in our field. We tend to think that science holds the answers to any question we may come across, but is that necessarily the case? Science can show us an endless amount of informative studies that can tell us everything we need to know about the human body. But there are many questions that science cannot give us the answer to. Like what makes up a human soul? What makes competition unique and appealing to athletes? I can answer these questions at another time, but instead I want to look at the relationship that science and philosophy could have together. There is room for both of these fields to have their own individual impact in Kinesiology, and understanding both may open up new research in the field.

            A question I want to bring up to you is what can philosophy bring to the table that science can simply not explain to us? I found the answer to that question to be quite simple: we can use philosophy to explain how the results of science should or should not be used. If we look at the field of Kinesiology, one of the most controversial subjects in all of sports is whether or not athletes should be able to use anabolic steroids to increase their performance. In an article on Blogspot.com, Martin Cothran explains that when it comes to questions of how, when, or whether to use new technologies that science brings up, science is of little help and we must rely on finding out our own answers to these questions and come up with our own conclusions (Cothran). So if look at steroid use among athletes under a philosophical microscope, we can ask ourselves whether or not athletes should be able to use steroids in sports using the findings that science provides us.

            Philosophy is not a black and white subject, and with that understanding, we can certainly come up with scenarios in which an athlete would resort to using an illegal substance. Maybe the athlete is succumbing to all the pressures around him. Competition can be so intense in sports at times and you can understand why an athlete would want to do everything in their power to gain a competitive advantage. Maybe the athlete is coming off a serious, career threatening injury and  using a substance that can aid them in their rehabilitation can be the difference in him/her putting money on their family’s table or becoming unemployed. A real life example of this can be seen with former NFL player, Charlie Waters. He was a player who took a minute amount of steroids, under doctor supervision when rehabbing is knee. This is not something he is proud of or would tell others to do, but taking the substance significantly helped him aid his rehab process and allowed him to play in the NFL for more than ten years. Waters even felt the ramifications of the drug, saying “My personality changed. But I was strong. Much stronger. I recovered much quicker. It was beneficial for the recovery of my knee” (Fisher). With this example, we can certainly see a scenario of why an athlete would take steroids and we can almost emphasize with this athlete because he did not abuse the substance to gain a competitive advantage.

Charlie Waters

            But there are also many reasons why steroids are banned in mostly every sports league or organization around the world. Steroid use among higher skilled athletes will show much greater gains than gains to an individual who has never worked out before (muscle.ucsd.edu). In fact studies of anabolic steroid use among high athletes have shown weight gains of thirty to forty pounds and strength increases of up to thirty percent (Fahey). In this case, science tells us that steroids give athletes a greater advantage in terms of strength over athletes who do not take the substance. If we were looking at this under a strictly scientific perspective than it would be clear that steroids should never be allowed in sports. But like I said earlier, we need to start incorporating philosophy and science together if we want to obtain the greatest amount of knowledge. Philosophy shows us, like the example with Charlie Waters, there are scenarios where steroids can greatly benefit an athlete without giving them an athlete a huge competitive advantage. Why is it that athletes who uses the substance once treated the same as an individual who abuses it for the length of their career? They are both ostracized by fans and media as being “cheaters” and “ruining the integrity of the game”. If steroids can benefit an individual in the rehabilitation process, should we not look into steroids as a viable recourse to help out athletes? In an era of player safety, should we not allow the player access to beneficial drugs so they decrease their chance for re-injury? Science can tell us the effects/benefits of a substance but it is up our philosophical minds to determine whether or not we should allow athletes to use it. It is not a simple case of steroids should never be allowed in sports. There are situations and scenarios that science cannot account for and we must think about that before coming up with such broad generalizations.

If we look at Philip Kitcher’s idea of what makes a good theory, he says that a good theory must be general, precise, and accurate. Banning steroids in sport because it might give you a competitive advantage is both general and accurate but I don’t think it’s precise. To be precise, the measurements under the same condition must show the same results. We know this is not the case because steroids may have a different effect for one athlete over the other. Also the abuse or intake of steroids will show different results. Simply put, it is not fair to lump all athletes under the same rule because each athlete is different and their circumstances are different. 

Cothran, Martin http://vereloqui.blogspot.com/2012/09/three-things-philosophy-can-do-that.html

Fahey, Thaomas D. http://www.sportsci.org/encyc/anabster/anabster.html

Fisher, Mike http://dal.scout.com/2/394427.html

Kitcher, Philip https://moodle-2013-2014.fullerton.edu/pluginfile.php/63582/course/section/33162/The%20Trouble%20with%20Scientism.pdf