Statement 1 – In the last thirty years the understanding of techniques and tactics and training methods has improved enormously, leading to the increased performance we see today.
Statement 2 – In the last thirty years equipment and technology have improved enormously, leading to the increased performance we see today.
If asked I am reasonably certain that everybody involved in sport would agree with both of those statements with the proportion attributed to each variable due to the particular sport that person is most involved in.
A Canadian science show recently did a piece investigating and trying to isolate the effect of technology on performance in a few individual events. The show can be seen here. The basic premise of the show was to give current performers the conditions of their predecessors and see how they perform. The most interesting one was the world championship 100m sprint bronze medallist who was given similar conditions as Jesse Owens. Running on a cinder track, with leather shoes and no starting blocks, he ran 0.7 seconds slower than Owens. There are of course other contributing factors (including habituation to the conditions and absence of competition) but it is a stunning point. The athletes in other disciplines showed similar, if less stark results. These results suggest a ‘what if?’. With all of the increases in training knowledge, technical knowledge and pharmaceutical assistance, what if the majority of improvement in performance can be attributed to improved equipment?
Yesterday, I posted about the psychology of improved performance. Athletes perform relative to their expectations of performance. Perhaps they model their performance somehow on previous performance, their own and others. As an experienced coach, this makes some intuitive sense. I could also name specific examples from my own personal experience and from history when the performance of a team has improved simply because a new coach brought with him higher expectations.
Putting those two threads together if you consider training, equipment and psychology, could it possibly be that training, training methodology, technique, tactics, scouting, (drugs) are actually the least important component of our programs? At the very least, the above evidence seems to suggest that we may be overvaluing their importance.