london 2012 athletes

London 2012: ‘I help take athletes to the next level,’ says Dan Pfaff

My philosophy is way out there. I believe that there is a way to do movement that’s more correct than not, that’s more efficient and lessens injuries. Some people say I’m unique, I have individual style, I have nuances. The way I see it, the further away you are from the model of excellence the more likely you are going to pay a price through inefficiency or chronic injury or inability to work as hard as your rival.

If you look at a 100m final at school level, all eight runners do radically different things. But in the 100m final of an Olympic Games all eight athletes do pretty much similar things. So as you get closer to world-class the criteria of movement narrow. It’s my belief that everything you do has to feed into that excellence model – to do esoteric stuff doesn’t necessarily move people towards that paradigm.

Coaches have a tendency to say, ‘That’s just the way they are’, or ‘They were really good as a junior; I don’t want to mess with them’. There’s probably an ignorance of biomechanics and kinesiology. People don’t really understand how the body works. Or they don’t study the 10 best athletes in that event and look for the common denominators. Or some coaches are just obsessed with finding a new way.

All the athletes in my traiПing group were world-class before they joined me, so my job was to figure out what can we clean up? What can we change to reduce injury? What can make them more efficient to do more work? What can take them to the next level? My answers are all hypotheses, of course, but through 40 years of working with multiple sports one of my gifts is ascertaiПing where athletes are at and where they need to go.

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With one exception all of the athletes in my group asked to work with me. But whenever you inherit athletes there’s always going to be resistance. There’s a tendency to say, ‘I’m already world-class, I want to at least stay there. What if I change a couple of things? I may fall from this level.’ Sometimes you’ve got to step backwards to step forwards. But it’s not a natural human instinct to go backwards. It’s very scary. Very few people have the emotional constitution to try that. That’s one of the big battles.

Take Goldie Sayers, for example. In a javelin competition there are six throws. Some throws there’s trust, other throws there is fear and doubt, other throws it’s reversion to what’s always worked in the past. It’s a chess game – every competition. They’ll consciously say, ‘I believe in what we’re doing’, but subconsciously they’re saying, ‘Oh man, this is scary. I don’t know if I can do it this way. I don’t have any history doing it this way.’ Do they ever fully trust you? I have to reprove myself and my concepts every day.

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