May 31, 2012
Strength and conditioning coaches thrive on the challenge.
They constantly push and encourage their athletes to excel outside of their comfort zones, whether it is in the weight room, on the track, in the pool or on the wrestling mat. It is the response to challenging circumstances, after all, that leads to toughness -- physical and mental -- and makes habit out of what is experienced through repeated and tireless practice.
For Mike Favre and Bo Sandoval, Michigan's Strength and Conditioning for Olympic Sports director and head coach, respectively, the message of rising to meet challenges does not live exclusively in the realm of athletic training and competition, and it does not live exclusively with their hundreds of Wolverine student-athletes.
There is perhaps no greater challenge for a coach than to submit his plan for public analysis and answer to the subsequent questions and critiques. With that purpose in mind, Favre and Sandoval traveled to China earlier this month to serve as featured presenters at the country's National Judo and Wrestling Coaches' Symposium.
The trip was arranged through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the global organization which recently honored Favre as its 2012 College Strength Coach of the Year and which has a cooperative agreement with China to share information and exchange philosophies and methodologies. When the wrestling and judo symposium came up on the schedule, Favre was an immediate consideration due to his extensive experience with both sports at the United States Olympic Training Center. He in turn suggested Sandoval, who worked alongside him at the OTC, and the two were given the assignment.
For their coaching accreditation, Chinese sport coaches must attend symposiums to accumulate a certain number of points annually. These symposiums move around to every province and cover a variety of topics. China does not have dedicated strength and conditioning coaches, so Favre and Sandoval presented directly to 350 coaches from different provinces as well as national and provincial coaches and directors of sport.
After opening the trip with an evening presentation in Beijing, the pair traveled to Hohhot, a Chinese province along the Mongolian border, where they conducted six three-hour talks -- three PowerPoint lectures and three hands-on activity sessions. In their lectures, given through an interpreter, himself a sport scientist, they addressed exercise prescription, periodization and planning for strength and conditioning, as well as the various methodologies involved in developing strength, power and endurance for wrestling and judo. They also taught specific Olympic weightlifting movements and went over areas of conditioning, speed, agility, quickness and abdominal training.
The days were full and nonstop, alternating largely between their presentations and formal meals, and they were accompanied at all times by a driver and their interpreter. They got up around 6 a.m. every day, ate breakfast and drove to the venue for their first presentation. If they were lucky, they had an hour break after lunch before heading back for their second three-hour presentation. A three-hour, full-course dinner would follow, after which they'd head back to the hotel and go to sleep. The process would repeat the next day.
"It was busy because they really wanted to maximize our use," said Favre, "but any chance they got, they would show us something. They took us to the Great Wall, to the Forbidden City, and they really went above and beyond at all of the meals."
"They really tried to show us their culture," said Sandoval. "Not just the Chinese culture but also the Mongolian culture. They showed us the side of Mongolia that I wish I would have learned about years ago, because it was really beautiful. It's one of the world's oldest civilizations. The hospitality was second to none. We just kept thinking if we could realistically replicate that if they came to visit us. We can't; there's no question. We would go broke if we ever tried to do it."
The Chinese hospitality extended to their openness to the material and eagerness to learn. While the coaches first took an observational approach, seemingly sitting back and absorbing all the information, once they were encouraged to ask questions, Favre and Sandoval found the questions similar to any they'd face at an American conference. The themes were universal.
The Chinese coaches were clear in their willingness to borrow and incorporate anyone's knowledge. Every demonstration was met with dozens of video cameras as the coaches gathered different strategies and information to bring back and disperse to their province. Through their system of continuing education, Chinese coaches have grown accustomed to learning and embracing new techniques and practices.
"They weren't just interested in exercise and reps," said Sandoval. "They want all the pieces of the puzzle, and they want to put it together. They really want to know what you do, how you do it, and why it works. Those are the types of questions they have. I'll often go to conferences here, and they just want to know what exercises to do on each day. That is all good, but in the foreign countries, they want to know why and all the details. It means they are really thinking, and they know their stuff.
"We've spent decades accumulating our educations. To simply throw our methods onto a piece of paper and just give it to them, there's no fun in that. It was more fulfilling and more entertaining for us to explain to them how it works instead of just giving them the password, so to speak. There is great thought about what's going into what we are providing for these athletes and these coaches. We want to share that passion with them."
The educational experience went both ways, and the Michigan coaches also asked their share of questions. Among their dinner company were provincial and national coaches, federation leaders, an international referee, and the national director of sport, and they all provided in-depth conversations regarding the highest level of preparation, suggesting details and schemes that Favre and Sandoval look forward to incorporating into their future designs.
"Sometimes you get so closed off to the outside world," said Favre. "An experience like this allows us to get that global perspective. It makes it so that we don't overlook anything. I think it makes me a better professional as well as a better person. You're getting out there outside of the norm, and you realize that maybe I haven't been doing it exactly right. Maybe I haven't been doing it in the most efficient way. We're always looking to better ourselves, and we're constantly learning. We go out and teach things, but we're constantly learning a better way to do it."
Favre hopes the experience will lead to other similar speaking opportunities. Over the course of his career, he has traveled to Russia, Germany, Finland, Turkey and the United Kingdom to share his knowledge, and the pair has already received a verbal invitation to return for future symposiums in China. During their time at the Olympic Training Center, they also had several countries come to them for international symposiums. The ultimate goal is to host one in Ann Arbor.
"It wouldn't do anything but make our program shine," said Favre. "We like to have that cultural exchange. Right now we're not set up for that kind of thing yet, but we will be. That's part of the master plan. Our medical school here at Michigan is global. Our business school is global. Our athletic department is becoming global now. That's what we want, and if we can add to that for Michigan, even just a tiny bit, we want to do all we can."