The Innovative Coaches Who Were First to Embrace Sports Science

The intersection of sports and science is irrefutable, and manifests itself in so many ways. This includes an increased understanding of movement like running, as discussed in the ‘Anatomy of Running’. Sports science has also led to the creation of equipment like our very own MASS suit. The suit is being used by athletes like Antonio Brown and Leroy Dixon.

However, athletes are not the only beneficiaries of sports science. Coaches benefit from it too, as long as they embrace it fully. That being said, these four coaches did exactly that, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.

Joe Vigil

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Arguably the greatest running coach in US history, Vigil was true a pioneer of his time. With a doctorate in physiology, Vigil devised science-backed training methods that helped Adams State cross country win 19 national team titles and 10 individual titles. He would ultimately find success in the professional ranks, coaching professional runners to 20 world cross country medals. His most famous protégé, Deena Kastor, had been on the brink of giving up running until she met the Alamosa High School alum. Vigil revived Kastor’s declining career, remaking her into quite possibly the greatest American female distance runner. One of the earliest advocates of altitude training, Vigil received the Legend Coach award from USA Track & Field in 2015, a fitting tribute to a man who revolutionized track and field coaching through sports science.

Red Auerbach

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Auerbach was an innovator of the highest order, weaponizing the fastbreak to full effect and establishing the concept of the sixth man. He was also one of the first coaches in the NBA to embrace the importance of conditioning, mainly in the context of the run-and-gun style that he and his teams pioneered. This was in part a reason for their unprecedented run of dominance from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. A winner in all his years with the Celtics, Auerbach’s many accomplishments often obscure the fact that he was one of the first coaches in NBA history to embrace science in his craft.

George Halas

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Bleacher Report describes Halas as having professionalized NFL coaching, and he did so with a little bit of science. Papa Bear incorporated practice routines into a freewheeling league and also emphasized conditioning, which made perfect sense given the physical toll of playing such a hard-hitting sport. He also professionalized scouting, and his approaches — novel in his time but the norm nowadays — no doubt helped the Chicago Bears win championships in 1921 and 1963.

Arsene Wenger

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The legendary Frenchman has always been keen on details, which is likely why he has achieved success at pretty much every stop in his storied 34-year career. But it was with Arsenal where the soccer manager truly cemented his legacy. Sports news site Ladbrokes revealed how Wenger eradicated Arsenal’s “laid-back culture” when he joined them from Grampus Eight. He then laid down the law to turn the Gunners into one of the fittest teams in the Premier League. He did so largely by introducing a strict diet, which BBC News reports was high in carbohydrates but low in fats and protein. Le Professeur’s methods surprised many, including some of his peers, but not the sports science community. Experts pointed out that the Wenger-prescribed diet helps provide soccer players the fuel they need to train and play at the highest level. Wenger’s ways were soon vindicated, with Arsenal winning the Premier League and FA Cup double twice, first in 1996 and then in 2002.

Coaches have a lot on their plate, and it is totally understandable if they choose not to buy in on the benefits of incorporating sports science into their craft. But it is definitely something every coach should consider. The success stories of Joe Vigil, Red Auerbach, George Halas, and Arsene Wenger are undeniable proof that sports science can, indeed, be helpful.

Written by: Steve Thompson for

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