After Eric Golberg graduated from the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation with what was then a Bachelor of Physical Education (now the Bachelor of Kinesiology) degree in 2012, he knew he wanted to stay involved with the Faculty and with the University of Alberta. At this time, the Faculty was close to opening the High Performance Training and Research Centre (HPTRC) in the Saville Community Sports Centre on the university’s South Campus. Not yet knowing if he would be able to be involved with the HPTRC, but eager to be on the ground level of this unique centre that integrates research and teaching with varsity sport and elite athlete development, Eric took any job he could at the Saville Community Sports Centre to ensure his chances of being involved.
“I was a contract coach at the Saville Community Sports Centre at time the HPTRC was about to open. I was so excited about the potential to work at the centre, that I took an odd-job of moving all the equipment into the centre and cutting up the large rubber mats for the weightlifting platforms.”
His hard work paid off and Eric became one of the first employees of what is now the Sport Performance Centre as the sport conditioning coach and coordinator. While in this role, Eric’s interest for expanding his knowledge about sport conditioning continued to grow. At the time, the Faculty’s Master’s of Coaching (MCoach) program didn’t include a sport conditioning stream, but Eric had heard of some discussion about the possibility of including this into the program in coming years, and he made sure to make his enthusiasm about this possibility known.
“I must have bugged one faculty member or another at least once a week for an entire year before Pierre Baudin—former associate director of sporting and coach science for the Faculty—pulled me aside and told me that I had better get my application ready, because the sport conditioning stream had officially been approved.”
Thus began Eric’s graduate studies in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation MCoach program. With the help of current professor Brian Maraj, Eric took a keen interest in motor learning, specifically focus of attention, which, according to Eric, seemed to blend the art and science of coaching.
Eric’s graduate research looked at the effects of internal and external focus of attention in a four week strength training program. Thanks to the hands-on opportunities the MCoach program provides, giving students access to “living labs” such as the Sport Performance Centre and the varsity teams, Eric was able to conduct this research with Golden Bears and Pandas athletes in the centre's setting.
“Current research in the area of focus of attention inspired me to reflect on my own coaching practices and consider that what we say as coaches matters. My communication and choice of cues can influence an athlete’s focus of attention. A great program has even more potential to influence physical adaptation if I take time to plan my cues and communication of the exercises.”
According to Eric, current literature explains that internal focus of attention is the processing of stimuli within the body and its movements. Research shows that an individual demonstrates internal focus of attention when they concentrate on their own body, limb and joint movement or muscle actions in relation to the task or goal. The literature also states that external focus of attention is the processing of stimuli outside of the body, typically on the movements effect or an implement involved in the task—an individual demonstrates external focus of attention when they concentrate on the equipment in relation to the task or goal. The results of Eric’s research showed that athletes in the internal and external focus group saw an increase in performance in jumping and squatting, but a significantly larger increase in squatting for the external focus group.
"In similar studies it is thought that the greater improvements in the external focus of attention groups compared to internal focus of attention group is due to the constrained action hypothesis whereby internal focus of attention causes increased neuromuscular activity in antagonist muscles disrupting the intended movements. Although I did not measure electromyography in this study I believe that the external focus of attention group elicited freer movement with less electromyography activity overall allowing them produce a more effective maximal effort resulting in a heavier one repetition maximum back squat."
The results of this study helped inform Eric’s capping project—a small scale independent research project that is developed and completed with the support of an academic supervisor and mentor coach—where he reflected on his research experience, addressed the strengths and limitations of research, and highlighted the importance of sport conditioning coaches to utilize both the art and science of coaching to best aid their athletes’ physical performance.
“Sport conditioning coaches are tasked with the planning and periodization of stress intended to elicit positive physical adaptations in their athletes. They monitor and test athletes to appropriately adjust volume and intensity to help keep the athletes progressing physically. It is easy for sport conditioning coaches to become immersed in scientific literature and not make any effort to develop their art of coaching. Coaches should consider that the most well thought-out program has no effect an athlete unwilling to do it. Coaches who take the time to understand the sociocultural impact they can have through the art of coaching will develop better relationships, increase motivation, and reducing docility with their athletes.”
Eric plans on applying his academic experience to his role at the Sport Performance Centre—a position he will maintain after he convocates on November 21 with a Master’s of Coaching in Sport Performance. Over the years, he has built quite the rapport with the athletes who use the facility, specifically the Golden Bears and Pandas soccer, tennis and curling athletes as he has been working with them as their sport conditioning coach for the past six years. Eric finds that the athletes’ receptiveness to his research experience is a benefit to them both, and he looks forward to accepting new challenges and responsibilities at the Sport Performance Centre, and working with the athletes to help them achieve their best performance in both training and on the playing surface.