Home Blog Strength and Conditioning Programs: Acts of Commission vs. Omission

Strength and Conditioning Programs: Acts of Commission vs. Omission

Written on March 4, 2010 at 6:57 am, by Eric Cressey

At the last Winter Olympics, Dutch speedskater Sven Kramer missed out on a gold medal because his coach, Gerard Kemkers, directed him into the wrong lane part way through the race.  Kramer finished the race with an Olympic record time – four seconds ahead of his nearest competitor – but was immediately disqualified because of an incorrect lane change with eight laps remaining on his long-time coach’s cue.

In the aftermath of the disqualification, Kemkers obviously came under a ton of scrutiny.  After all, he committed a pretty big coaching mistake – and it’ll probably become a huge part of his legacy, as unfortunate as it is.


Here is a guy who has likely helped thousands of speed skaters over the years, presumably devoting countless hours to research, coaching, and becoming the best he could be – both as a coach and an athlete (he won a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics).  And, as Kramer noted, it is hard to argue with the success Kemkers helped him achieve:  “Three times world champion, four times European champion, so many World Cups and Olympic gold in the 5,000 meters.” In the process, Kemkers had to have omitted little to nothing; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been coaching at such a high level.

Had Kemkers never endeavored to get to a high level – or taken shortcuts to get there – there would have been countless omissions along the way: gaps in his knowledge, an inability to befriend athletes, and a fundamental misappreciation for what it takes to compete at a high level.  He would have been mediocre at best.


Kemkers’ mistake was an act of commission, not omission.

Meanwhile, millions of “armchair” quarterbacks around the world will criticize him for being an idiot, when in reality, the opportunity to make this mistake might never have come along if he hadn’t spent so much time preparing to not be an idiot.

Speedskating isn’t really our thing here in the United States, so let’s apply this to something that better fits our existing schema: ACL injuries in female athletes.  We know ACL tears are extremely common in female athletes, particularly those participating in basketball, gymnastics, and soccer.  I actually recall reading that the average NCAA women’s soccer team has one ACL tear every year, and that typically, 1 in 50 female NCAA basketball players will blow out an ACL in a given season.  These numbers may be a bit dated now, but you get the point: if you don’t train to prevent these injuries, you’re omitting an insanely valuable initiative that protects your athletes…and mascots.


Now, we need to see another “ACL Injury Prevention Protocol” on Pubmed like I need to experience another Tony Gentilcore Techno Hour.  In other words, there are plenty of them out there, and we know what kind of strength and conditioning programs work; it is just about execution.

So, let’s take your typical strength and conditioning coach who puts his female athletes through everything he should to protect them from ACL injuries – but one girl drops a weight on her foot and breaks a toe to miss the rest of the season.

Had he omitted external loading from his strength training program, this never would have happened – but he probably would have had four times as many ACL tears as broken toes and his athletes wouldn’t have performed as well.  Here, an act of omission would have been far worse than an act of commission – just like we saw with Kemkers.  This isn’t always the case, but it’s important to realize that two kinds of mistakes occur, and sometimes you’re better being proactive and making a mistake than you are ignoring a responsibility and just keeping your fingers crossed.

It’s been said before that strength and conditioning programs are both a science and an art – and the art is interpreting what to leave out and what to include in light of risk-reward for each unique athlete.  For instance, a front squat is a fantastic exercise from a scientific standpoint, but on the art side of things, it may not be appropriate for an athlete whose spine doesn’t like axial loading.  Or, it may be a problem if an athlete hasn’t been front squatting, and introducing it right before competition would cause soreness that might be counterproductive to performance.

Think about how this applies to the next strength and conditioning program you write, and the next client/athlete you coach.

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15 Responses to “Strength and Conditioning Programs: Acts of Commission vs. Omission”

  1. Howard Gray Says:

    Very thoughtful article Eric – thank you!

  2. Scott Moody Says:

    It’s hard to count the number of injuries you have “prevented” over the years, but the spotlight always seems to be placed on the one in a thousand that you couldn’t “prevent”… Great crossover point from tactical coaching to strength and conditioning.

  3. Bert Says:


    Do you feel that an act of commission is never something to second guess so long as you’re always striving to make informed decisions and genuinely have the athletes best interests in mind?

  4. James Says:

    Great post, EC!

  5. Shawn Phillips Says:


    Well said… so with you on this.

    I appreciate your experienced perspective on this great distinction: Commission vs. Omission.

    It’s not just an important topic for coaches and athletes, I think you’ve done a terrific and important job of defending coach Kemker… he made a mistake at the highest level.

    He’s still one of the absolute most elite coaches in the sport. We should all aim to find ourselves in position to make this sort of monumental error… for that would require a lifetime of massive achievement.

    To Your Life @ Full Strength,

  6. Bruce Kelly Says:

    Very well thought out and like the analogy to ACL prevention/reduction. Time to stop talking/researching and get down to brass tacks and just do it, as Nike would say.

  7. Luis Bracamonte Says:

    Eric, great point and analogy. I actually had a similar accident as an athlete. I was competing in the Southamerican Swimming Championships Finals in the 200 butterfly years back and I almost missed the race. I arrived in a rush to the block, barely making it in time for the start. My performance was slower than my qualifying time and I was left without a trip to the podium.
    Mistakes happen all the time but they are not always televised for the world to see. I simpathize with Coach Kemker and agree with you in this article. Most of will never make the mistake that Coach Kemker made but won’t experience half of his accomplishments either.

  8. Alena Hilbert Says:

    That is a great article Eric. Everyone was good at criticising him but no one stood up for him! Well done!

  9. Jez Boyd Says:

    Nice job Eric,
    As so many others have noted, it is far too easy to focus on the negative and discard the positives, like the person who complains about their increased tax bill, forgetting that it’s only because they earnt more.
    Thanks for the perspective.

  10. Cary Holder Says:

    Great article and fantastic point of view Eric!

  11. Allison Ethier Says:

    Loved this part –>
    “Sometimes you’re better being proactive and making a mistake than you are ignoring a responsibility and just keeping your fingers crossed.”
    Borrowed for my facebook,

  12. Steph Murdock Says:

    Basically, it is all about Expected Value (EV). It would sure be nice if this concept left the confines of discussion of matheletes and poker pros.

  13. Njama Says:

    I agree, sometimes we can really make alot of decisions from the safety of the couch, and when being in the thick of things our decisions just may be different. I know I can’t judge because I’ve made mistakes, but the fact that he admitted it and has moved on, shows this is a man to respect. Good article Eric!

  14. Lisa Says:

    Really enjoyed the point of view you offered on how to turn a huge mistake into something you could learn from. This is a great lesson for most athletes and coaches. Love the articles Eric.

  15. Brian Says:

    Eric, this is some great perspective. You may have heard these things spoken about by another guy who was a pretty great athlete and man of high achievement…

    “It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt

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