George Chiappa, owner of CSAD Ottawa and Director of Peak Performance and Athlete Development, has experience as both an athlete and coach. These combined roles have given him a unique perspective and evolving expertise. In this interview we see how these integrated experiences shape both the personal identity and expression of an athlete and coach and his approach to the athletes he trains and develops.
You have extensive experience as an athlete, a master's athlete and a coach. You are currently a business owner and Director of Peak Performance and Athlete Development. How do you define and embody the terms athlete and coach at this stage personally and professionally?
I define an athlete as anyone who combines a skill with an ability. Skills require technical development from extrinsic actions. An ability is more intrinsic. Consequently, the ABC’s (agility, balance and coordination) are critical in athletic development. These elements are co-factors of strength, flexibility, and body awareness. At this stage in my life, I will always be a master’s athlete, and consider this in determining my health, lifestyle and activity levels. Professionally, for those people whom I train, I do my best to realize which of these factors are less dominant in their skills and abilities and work towards developing them.
You work with many age groups. One group you have always been dedicated to are adolescents and you are a big proponent of Long Term Athlete Development. Can you describe what this term means and how you integrate this approach into your personal philosophy on athletics, health and development?
Long term athlete development is best defined as the stages that one goes through to master a set of skills or sport. Based partially on Ericsson’s 10 year or 10,000 hours of purposeful practice, LTAD focuses on developmental age as opposed to chronological age. A developing performer must master a set of skills and abilities to progress to the next level much like an infant must learn to roll over, then sit up, then crawl before they can run. This is done regardless of specific age.
Ever since I was 9 years old I have been an athlete. I played hockey, softball, American football, basketball, all at various levels and capacities. In my late teens, I developed into a national/international level athlete in track and field and into an American football player during university. As an adult, I developed an international career in strength sports spanning 36 years. The athleticism I established during my formative years was the foundation for my talent and success in my adult career. Furthermore, I began coaching athletes in various sports at the age of 14, and continue to do so as an elite strength coach. These experiences have allowed me to see two perspectives: that of the athlete being coached and learning new skills, and that of the coach wanting development and adherence to strategy.
I have been using this dual perspective for 40 years, as an athlete learning or improving a skill and as a coach helping an athlete learn or improve a set of skills, strengths and motor patterns. I am continuously blending my roles while coaching others, asking myself how I would feel and react as an athlete in a particular circumstance or as an athlete asking myself in the second and third person how I would coach myself.
Having trained as an athlete and then coaching and guiding athletes for 30 years what would you like to develop and contribute to the field at this stage given your accumulated experiences and perspectives?
I see a lack of proper development from youth to adult stages. Too many coaches and trainers are asking young developing performers to do drills and exercises that are designed for elite, professional and fully matured athletes. There is plenty of research that shows us how and when to introduce certain skills and abilities, and I would like to see more of this being implemented across all levels. I will take it upon myself to share those guidelines with others in my field, especially the younger trainers.