Towards human coaching. Holistic conception of people and its heuristics in terms of sports coaching.

It was the title of the doctoral dissertation of Jyri Puhakainen, 57, PhD in 1995.

The dissertation showed that in Finnish sports coaching, an athlete was seen as a physical and biological entity. It was the coach’s job to maximize the performance of this object.

  • The article was originally published in Urheilulehti 22/2020. You will find similar stuff in the publication every week. Ordering instructions are here.

Puhakainen argues that the human perception of coaching should be changed. It was worth starting to coach a person as a whole person who, in addition to the body, has consciousness and a world of life.

His claims were strongly opposed. Heikki Rusko, director of the Kihu Research Center for Racing and Top Sports, said: “Puhakainen is a communist. A decent sports crowd doesn't want to have anything to do with him. ”

Since then, what has happened: For a long time, the sports people have accepted Puhakainen's claims about holistic coaching.

- Those thoughts came to light through something else, but nice that I have been able to be a kind of trendsetter, she says.

Now Dr. Puhakainen works as the coaching manager of the Lappeenranta football club LAUTP. He is currently critically evaluating the position of the Football Association in Finnish football.

Lauritsala Työväen Palloilijat is the breeders' association of the Puhakainen brother trio. Lauritsala is a former township and the current district of Lappeenranta. LauTP played at its best in the men’s Division I.

The whole trio advanced to the main series. Kuopus Saku is best known as a futar: he is the third best scorer in betting league history. Harri played two seasons in MP and Jazz.

The league clubs of the eldest brother in the series, Jyri Puhakainen, in the periods 1986–93 were Kuusysi, MP and Ilves. My career in futarina was one of the stimuli for the dissertation's topic selection.

Jyri Puhakainen in the early 1990s in Ilves' shirt.

Photo: Archive

The other was the research unit of sports philosophy at the University of Tampere.

- The foundation existed for a completely new research area, Puhakainen says.

- Western philosophy has traditionally focused on human development taking place in the head. It has not included the idea that wisdom can be attained through bodily action.

- The third issue was Lauri Rauhala's research on human work, which he had done since the 1950s. That is, I have wondered what significance the human perception has in psychotherapy, for example.

It turned out that the thoughts of psychologist Rauhala are well suited for examining coaching. Also in coaching, “how a person is understood influences what kind of behaviors can be chosen”.

In the 1970s and 1990s, Finnish coaching “was terribly interested in technical and physical issues”.

- The human perception was narrow. The athlete's mental side and the importance of the life situation did not really belong in the coaching paradigm, Puhakainen says.

- When I was wondering why, I started to get acquainted with the traditions of Finnish coaching. It quickly became clear that a biological-physiological line from Jyväskylä was prevalent in the study.

It stemmed from the tradition of athletics and ski coaching - the idea that coaching is tantamount to improving an athlete’s fitness.

The University of Jyväskylä has the only faculty of sports science in Finland. Kihu is located in the same town.

- The narrow understanding of people was reflected in coach training, coaching sciences and general basic attitudes towards coaching, Puhakainen says.

Finland had modeled on the famous sports system in East Germany. Although its roughness had already begun to be revealed, the effect was still visible. Back in 1997, Heikki Kantola, Coaching Manager of the Olympic Committee, said:

- The GDR system itself was very fine, for example in the search for abilities. I have a lot of acquaintances there and they are great people. There was very professional work done there.

For this biological-physiological training, Jyri Puhakainen outlined an alternative based on a holistic understanding of people. It was addressed in his books Towards Human Coaching (1995) and Tamed Bodies (1997).

Holistic coaching is based on the idea that an athlete always plays sports as a holistic person. That coaching must take into account not only the body but also the athlete's consciousness and world of life, ie the life situation.

In holistic coaching, the coach coaches the athletes more individually. Athletes are taking more and more responsibility for their own sports, for example, the content of training. Long-term plans are left even looser so that they can be adjusted to the situation.

Alpo Suhonen was an important relative of Jyri Puhakainen, who was controversial in the training circles of the 1990s. Picture from 1999.

Photo: Timo Hämäläinen / IS

Puhakainen was not alone with his thoughts. He has to list a whole group of relatives: hockey Alpo Suhonen, basketball Henrik Dettmann, golf Timo Rauhala, football Jyrki Heliskoski.

- There had been similar thoughts before. Alpohan had started the conversation as early as the 70s, Puhakainen says.

- We find something that was thought and invented a long time ago and bring it to the right place. It creates something that takes development forward.

The confrontation between the holistic and the biological-physiological camp was steep. In 2014, Jukka Lahtinen recalled in this magazine the attitude of the Finnish Coaches' Association to Puhakainen and his thoughts:

- The leading coaches of our country at that time agreed not to take a stand on Puhakainen's thoughts and not to invite him anywhere. This would get him out of the patterns.

Puhakainen says that in retrospect he thought that “fortunately young men have the enthusiasm of young men”.

- I knew that the ant nesting in Sohainen, but still the attitude of the old power was confusing.

Despite the efforts of the Finnish Coaches' Board, Puhakainen's ideas were discussed in public. He was invited to speak at many events.

He estimated that his statements remained detached. It was not realized that the basics of coaching cannot be changed in one lecture.

- At that point, the thoughts still fell asleep.


 I knew I had an ant nest, but still the attitude of the old power was confusing.

In 1999, Puhakainen moved back to Lappeenranta. He became a football coach when his son started playing.

There are no more Lauritsala Workers' Ballers, but LAUTP continues its traditions. Saku Puhakainen is the chairman and Jyri Puhakainen is a full-time coaching manager.

Urheilulehti, published by A-lehti in 2005, headlined: "Did Jyri Puhakainen's dissertation destroy top Finnish sports?"

The question was based on two assumptions. First, that the Young Finland organization was detrimental to top sports. Secondly, Puhakainen's dissertation helped to justify the ideology of Young Finland.

15 years later, Jyri Puhakainen says ironically:

- Was an influential guy when he was able to destroy all Finnish sports.

- Those thoughts were not always understood.

One of the basic ideas of Young Finland was to organize exercise for those children and young people who do not want to compete. Puhakainen approaches the same thing from a different direction: he wanted - and wants - to make sport such that competition is of interest to as many people as possible.

- It is said that there must be play in sports. Playing sports is a competition - there’s no other play in it, he says.

- The basic theory of football has already been invented. The game is an autonomous competition between two teams, where the difference between the goals scored and the number scored is determined by the winner.

-The goal should be a minimum Football Association and maximum clubs, Jyri Puhakainen says.

Photo: Ari Nakari

LAUTP is a breeders' club of about 300 players. Its 14-year-old and younger junior boys play evenly against the best teams in Finland.

- We offer young people a world where they can experience excitement and togetherness, Jyri Puhakainen says.

- If Towards Human Coaching was once a milestone and an achievement in the Finnish coaching debate, I personally consider it an equally hard achievement that we, as a small club and community, have been able to generate such activities.

In a protracted struggle, holistic coaching has won over biological-physiological coaching.

- The basic idea of ​​human coaching - to work with people - is now self-evident. For example, the terminology has changed in coach training and the general discussion about coaching, Jyri Puhakainen says

- The basic ideas are anchored in practice. It involves a change in society: there has been a shift from an agricultural and industrial society to a post-industrial society. All information is now available to everyone.

In Puhakainen's opinion, this change should also change the organizational structure of sports.

- Some administrative organizations - such as the Football Association - have emerged to take a single approach in the agricultural or industrial society. What role do such organizations need in the information society? The goal should be a minimum Football Association and maximum clubs.

- The problem is that it is not understood that the whole football here is based on the concrete activities of the clubs on the field. Administrative, development and research work should be subordinate to this and not the other way around.

Puhakainen, 57, does not expect quick changes.

- It will take the same 25 years to turn the train as to adopt the Towards Human Coaching views.